NEW YORK (RNS) — Hundreds of protesters descended on Grand Central Terminal on Friday evening (Oct. 27), answering a call from the activist organization Jewish Voice for Peace to demand a cease-fire in Gaza.
A few minutes before 6 p.m., protesters in black attire, many in T-shirts reading “Cease-fire Now,” entered the station and began hanging “Palestine should be free” banners along staircases leading to its main concourse.
A week ago, Jewish Voice for Peace, an anti-Zionist organization founded in 1996, occupied the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, asking for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
Friday’s protest took place as news broke that the Israeli army had intensified its strike on Gaza, cutting off internet and other communications, and launched a long-expected ground offensive. Estimated to have drawn some 1,000 participants, the demonstration was among the largest protests New York City has seen since Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel.
Jewish Voice for Peace announced its intention to hold the rally on social media two days before but kept the location secret until late Friday afternoon. Despite the secrecy, the station was already packed at the protest’s announced start time.
The event began with the lighting of Shabbat candles and recitation of kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, by rabbis. The protesters then began chanting “Cease-fire now,” “Not in our name,” “Free Palestine” and “Stop the genocide now,” their voices resounding through the vast space under the station’s famous starry ceiling.
Some participants distributed flyers printed with a verse from the Bible’s Book of Leviticus, Chapter 19, in English and Hebrew: “You shall not oppress a stranger, but shall love each one as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Outside the station, at the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, participants who were denied entry echoed the chants with equal enthusiasm.
“Where you go, I will go, Palestine. Your people are my people,” chanted the crowd in front of the station entrance. Many waved Palestinian flags and wore kaffiyeh, the checkered scarf symbolizing Palestinian resistance and identity. In the crowd, many parents came with their young kids.
Barred from the station, Judy Arnow, 76, held tight to a white cardboard sign reading, “End the blockade!” referring to the humanitarian aid blockade in the Gaza Strip. “We want a cease-fire now. People are dying in this moment. The whole world is watching. We need a cease-fire now,” she said.
Arnow, who is Jewish, is already a protest veteran. On Oct. 16, she was at the rally organized by If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace in Washington and marched to the White House with hundreds of others demanding an immediate cease-fire. She was not among the 30 or more protesters arrested by the U.S. Secret Service at the end of the march. “I’m too old for this,” she said, smiling.
About an hour into Friday night’s protest, messages reading “Free Palestine” and “Let Gaza live now” were projected on the walls of the building opposite the station’s entrance on 42nd Street, to cheers from those gathered at the station doors.
“Hey, hey! Oh oh! The occupation has got to go,” shouted a young woman in a wheelchair, inviting the crowd to follow her.
Neau Frumkin, who lost multiple members of his family in the Holocaust, said he had made a promise to himself to always stand up against racism and fascism. “I’m here because I don’t want to see a genocide perpetrated on the people of Palestine,” he said.
Among those protesting were New York state Sens. Robert Jackson and Julia Salazar and New York City Council members Alexa Avilés and Sandy Nurse. Actress Indya Moore was among the 200 arrested by the New York Police Department officers.
The United Nations has called for a humanitarian cease-fire in a resolution adopted Friday in a vote by 120 members. Friday afternoon, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres demanded an “unconditional release of all hostages and the delivery of life saving supplies at the scale needed” in a tweet in which he referred to the situation as a “moment of truth.”
Lina Fansa contributed to this story.