The vigil in the outdoor memorial court of the Museum of Tolerance presented one of the rare occasions when truly all segments of the often fractionated Jewish community appeared present and united.
The largely bareheaded crowd was liberally sprinkled with the knitted kippot of the observant and the black hats of the fervently Orthodox. Veteran Angelenos and Holocaust survivors were joined by newcomers from the former Soviet Union and Iran.
Underlining the note of communal harmony were the prime co-sponsors, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, joined by 28 other organizations.
Federation President John Fishel reminded the 900 people jammed inside the courtyard, and hundreds in an adjoining auditorium and waiting in the street, that "All Jews are responsible for one another." He noted that some 170 Jewish federations across North America were demanding justice for the Shiraz 13, whose postponed trial is scheduled to start May 1.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, returned to the Passover theme when he declared that "We eat bitter herbs to remind us of the Egyptian bondage. But for the Shiraz 13 and their families, they have tasted bitter herbs for an entire year waiting for due process, denied the right to have their own attorneys."
Hier warned Iranian authorities that "Many before you have attempted to shackle freedom. The mighty Pharaoh, and he failed. The dictators Stalin and Hitler, and they failed. And so will you. Because our 3,500-year history has taught us that you can incarcerate people, but you can never imprison human dignity. You can control the process, but you can never extinguish the hope that burns within the human soul."
Appeals to attend the rally had been sounded throughout the community. Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple had exhorted some 1,500 young adults at his Friday Night Live service to participate.
But more visible were high school juniors and seniors from the Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, who aided security personnel.
An estimated 25 percent of the crowd were from the Iranian Jewish community, but the number should have been even larger, said Pooya Dayanim.
Dayanim, spokesman for the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations, said that "Many Iranians stayed away because the rally committee did not include one of their number among the speakers."
Fishel contested this claim and said it was important that the protest to the Tehran government be seen as coming from the mainstream Jewish community.
The formal program ended with a stirring singing of "Am Ysrael Chai," led by Dr. Mark Goldenberg. But as the crowd was leaving, a group of young Iranian started up an impromptu chant of "Let my people go, let my people go."