The recent kidnappings of three Israeli teenagers and more than 275 Nigerian girls are playing out thousands of miles away, but the sagas brought out dozens of demonstrators calling for their safety on Sunday.
The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale’s (HIR) Rabbi Avi Weiss, long an advocate for international justice, led about 75 outraged at the June 12 kidnapping of the Israeli students and the April abduction of the Nigerian girls. Their respective plights have become causes célèbres around the country and the rest of the globe, although the HIR demonstration appears to be among the first linking the stories.
“Imagine a young boy or girl kidnapped right here in New York,” Rabbi Weiss told the crowd outside HIR. “These are our girls. These are our boys. This is a struggle between those who believe in the holiness of children and those who want to exploit them.”
After he said a prayer, Ruth Evon Idahosa of PathFinders Justice Initiative, Mojúbàolú Okome of Brooklyn College and others gave speeches in the hot afternoon. The speakers stressed that they saw the kidnapping victims as children of their own in spite of differences of ethnicity, background and religion. They also called on demonstrators to continue taking action.
“I urge you to have the courage to write to your legislators,” Ms. Idahosa said. “An abduction of one Nigerian girl or Israeli boy is the taking of a world citizen.”
The crowd encompassed a wide range of ages, but parents made up most of the participants.
“To pick on children who are innocent is an outrage,” said 85-year-old Jerry Friedman. “My grandchildren have traveled the world. When you hear something like that, you can’t help but think they could’ve been yours and you have to stand up.”
After the speeches, the demonstrators chanted “Bring our children back” to the tune of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”
Several people held up signs saying “#BringBackOurBoys” and “#BringBackOurGirls.” Others included signs that merged both, saying “Bring Back Our Children.” Rabbi Weiss said that that was intentional.
“It should become a larger movement,” he said. “Even in war, there should be certain lines of decency, and that line is — don’t touch our children.”
According to reports, members of the extremist Islamist movement Boko Haram kidnapped an estimated 276 female students from a Nigerian school on April 15. The kidnappers said the girls should not have been in non-Islamic schools and announced plans to sell them as brides. A search for the girls including U.S. involvement ensued.
About two months later, three Israeli teenagers, one of them with American citizenshp, went missing in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Palestinian group Hamas for the kidnappings. While Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., has praised the kidnappings, it has not claimed responsibility.
The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls began on social media in response to the kidnapping in Nigeria. #BringBackOurBoys went viral following the kidnapping in Israel. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have both vocally condemned the Nigerian kidnapping, but were yet to comment on the Israeli teens’ situation as of Sunday’s demonstration.
Rabbi Weiss called on the president to voice support for the Israeli teens as he did for the Nigerian girls.
“The president and the first lady spoke out beautifully about the girls, like they were their daughters. I’m waiting for them to say that our boys are our sons as well,” he said. “When the world will get that message, they will be freed.”