Tens of thousands of Jews gathered Sunday afternoon in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan to voice their anguish over the stated plans by the governing coalition in Israel to end draft exemptions for yeshivah students, altering a status quo that has been in place for 65 years.
The protest rally had been endorsed by some Gedolei Yisrael. Other Gedolim, both in the United States and in Eretz Yisrael — while equally opposed to the proposed draft — felt that a public protest was not advisable at this time.
The speakers at the rally stressed that the true goal of this draft was to forcibly tear away the youth from a Torah-true way of life.
The rally began with tefillas Minchah. Harav Osher Kalmanowitz, Rosh Yeshivah, Yeshivas Mir in Flatbush, recited Tehillim. Harav Yitzchak Glick, Menahel of the Hisachdus Harabanim, served as emcee.
Speakers included Harav Yaakov Weiss, Rosh Yeshivas Satmar in Kiryas Yoel; Harav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, Rosh Yeshivas Zichron Moshe in South Fallsburg; the Galanta Rav; Harav Berel Katz, Dushinsky Rav; Harav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Rav of Nachlas Yitzchok, Kew Gardens Hills; Harav Pinchus Jung, Menahel of Bais Rochel in Monsey, who spoke in English; Harav Yaakov Horowitz, Rav of the Telshe Minyan in Boro Park and Rosh Yeshivas Beis Meir; Harav Yaaakov Nachman Stauber, Menahel of Satmar Yeshivah in Queens, and Harav Naftuli Hertzka Frenkel of Yerushalayim, who recited Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shamayim.
Three of the eldest and leading Rebbes in the United States, namely, the Skulener Rebbe, shlita, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, shlita, and the Rachmastrivka Rebbe, shlita, signed a joint letter urging participation in the rally. The Satmar Rebbe Harav Aharon Teitelbaum and the Satmar Rebbe Harav Zalman Leib Teitelbaum each issued letters in support of the protest.
A kol korei listing numerous Rabbanim, including, the Kossover Rebbe and the Rav of the Boyaner kehillah in New York, was also publicized on Friday. The Belzer kehillah in New York also issued a letter stating that it was proper to join in the rally, and the protest was announced on Shabbos in the large shul of the Skverer Rebbe in New Square.