NEW YORK ― More than 30 rabbis and rabbinical students staged a protest at the United Nations on Tuesday morning, calling for a cease-fire in Gaza as Palestinian authorities say the death toll from the U.S.-backed Israeli invasion of the territory approaches 23,000.

The rabbis, who gained access to the building as part of a guided tour, entered the United Nations Security Council Chamber, where they recited prayers and chanted their support for a cease-fire. HuffPost embedded with the group and observed the protest.

Last month, in the same room, the United States vetoed a resolution demanding a cease-fire in Gaza. Thirteen of the Security Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the resolution; the United Kingdom abstained. Also last month, the United States abstained from a watered-down Security Council resolution aimed at increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza. Russia abstained from that vote as well, after the United States vetoed a Russian amendment calling for a suspension of hostilities.

“As an Israeli, I’ve gone through cycles of terror and anxiety, frustration, and the most we can do in Israel right now is send goodies to soldiers on the front,” said Jeremy Milgrom, a rabbi from Jerusalem, told HuffPost ahead of the demonstration. “I think coming here is going to do more for Israel.”

At a press conference outside the U.N. after the protest, organizers said six rabbis were able to access the floor of the General Assembly, which is meeting Tuesday. The rabbis held up a banner, addressed to President Joe Biden, demanding a cease-fire, organizers said.

Jewish groups in support of a cease-fire — including Rabbis for Ceasefire, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow — organized Tuesday’s protest action.

United Nations tour guides and security officers scrambled to respond to the demonstration, which one of the rabbis announced by blowing on a shofar, a ceremonial ram’s horn.

Alissa Wise, founder and leader of Rabbis for Ceasefire, quoted the prophets Isaiah and Micah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up swords against nation. Neither shall they learn war anymore.”

After security personnel recorded everyone’s names, the group was escorted outside.

Sophie Ellman-Golan, communications director for Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, stressed that the protest was not adversarial toward the United Nations, but rather that it came in response to the United States’ actions as part of the body.

“Since the Biden administration is consistently, single-handedly blocking the U.N. from taking any meaningful action for a cease-fire, we are organizing 36 rabbis and rabbinical students from seven different states to come to the U.N. themselves, and say, ‘We’re speaking for the people, this is a moral call,’” Ellman-Golan told HuffPost ahead of the protest.

“Every single Jewish life, every single Muslim life matters, and to save a life is to save an entire world,” said Ari Lev Fornari, senior rabbi of Kol Tzedek in Philadelphia.

American Jews have been sharply divided about Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that left more than 1,100 people dead in Israel and more than 200 taken as captives, according to Israeli figures. Nearly half of those hostages were released as part of a prisoner swap in November.

“I’m angry. I’m upset. I feel that every day that this war happens, it gets more of us — Palestinians and Israelis and Jews all over the world — in more and more danger,” said Abby Stein, a rabbi who was raised in the Orthodox community.

Many Jews have participated in protests in support of a cease-fire, while prominent Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League have criticized anti-Zionist organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt referred to such groups in October as “hate groups,” and several former staffers at the group told Jewish Currents this month that Greenblatt had redirected the ADL’s work to focus on pro-Palestinian activism rather than American antisemitism.

“Part of the work of Rabbis for Ceasefire is safeguarding the moral center of Judaism to ensure that there is a Judaism worthy of the coming generations,” Wise told HuffPost. “We want to look back and say there were rabbis who stood up in this time.”


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