Hoax targets Israel Solidarity Day Walk

Bogus letter announcing cancellation of annual Walk with Israel is sent to Oak Park synagogue among others in the Chicago area.

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To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the cancellation of the 34th Annual "Walk with Israel" have been greatly exaggerated. More precisely, a letter announcing the cancellation of the event, scheduled for this Sunday, is being investigated by Oak Park police as a hoax, not an exaggeration. Oak Park Deputy Chief Robert Scianna confirmed Tuesday that the investigation is ongoing. Oak Park Temple, he said, is just one of 40 congregations that received the letter, which bore a Palatine postmark.

"We've got an investigation going because they've received a couple more letters," Scianna said. "Although they're not threatening, we're taking it seriously."

The memo was received at Oak Park Temple, 1235 N. Harlem on Thursday. Purporting to be from Jewish United Fund chairman Edward A. Fox, it was addressed to "all 'Israel Solidarity Day' organizers."

"Sadly and with great disappointment," the memo began, "I am informing you that we are forced to cancel our 'Walk with Israel' this year, due to outpouring anger from many communities. There were also numerous threats for disruption of our festivities, so we unanimously voted to call off the Israel Solidarity Day. The American Jewish Committee Chicago Chapter, has also concluded, that events like this are fueling anti-Semitism."

The memo concludes by telling readers to go to www.juf.org/walk update for further information.

However, visitors to that website were greeted by a headline reading, "Israel Solidarity Day has not been cancelled." It was followed by detailed information about this Sunday's march.

The hoax certainly didn't fool anyone at Oak Park Temple.

"My reaction was that it was clearly a poor hoax," said Robin Arbetman, Temple Educator. "There was no letterhead, and there were typos in the letter."

After reading the memo, Arbetman called the police, who took the envelope and letter away in an evidence bag.

Arbetman said she had "no idea" who sent the phony memo, and didn't care to hazard a guess. As to a motive, she speculated that someone simply wanted to "put a kink in our game plan."

"Since 9/11, there have been heightened security plans, and they're trying to play on that," she said.

It won't change anything, Arbetman said.

"It's a stupid hoax, kind of amateur," she said. "We'll ignore it. We're walking. We're going ahead with our plans, as is the other group."

That other group is the American Friends Service Committee's "Walk for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine. Though the AFSC views the Israeli/Arab situation from a decidedly different perspective, they don't support the sort of tactics used in the memo hoax.

"I'm sad that somebody would resort to that sort of thing. It doesn't set a very good tone for anybody," said AFSC committee member Jennifer Bing-Canar.

For the past four years the Annual Walk for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine has touted itself as an alternative to the Walk for Israel. While the walk itself is just four years old, the AFSC itself goes back to the last year of World War I, 1917.  

Arbetman said friction between her group and the AFSC walk has improved in the past several years, after some animosity at the start. Arbetman also stressed that the Walk for Israel is less about politics than it is about national pride.

"We go ahead with our celebration of Israeli independence much the way that we celebrate the 4th of July," she said.

Oak Park police don't expect any trouble between the two groups, but say they are prepared to deal with whatever comes up.

"We're going to make sure that it goes off without a hitch," said Scianna.

Registration for the Walk with Israel will take place from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at Oak Park Temple, 1235 N. Harlem Ave. The 5.7-kilometer walk, ending up in Scoville Park kicks off at 10 a.m. Entertainment and other programs start at 11:30 a.m. in Scoville Park, featuring the music of string instrument virtuoso Stuart Rosenberg.

The Walk for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine begins at 12:15 p.m. Sunday with a "Gathering Program" at Ridgeland Common Park. That will be followed at 1:30 p.m. by a 1-mile walk, and at 2:30 p.m. with a Potluck Advocacy Buffet/Program at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 460 Lake St., with music and speakers such as "refuser" Anver Efenbowicz and Oak Park resident and Israeli-American writer Emily Hauser.

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