American Jews Pray for Settlers

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Wearing skull caps and prayer shawls, several hundred American Jews gathered in front of the United Nations (search) as Israel began withdrawing from the Gaza Strip (search) after a 38-year occupation.

The crowd Sunday chanted and prayed for friends in Gaza who were forced to leave their homes in the settlements. Many said they came to pray and express sadness rather than protest.

"As emotionally tied in as we are to the imminent destruction of the Jewish community in Gaza, this is a day when we cry out to God rather than scream protest slogans," said Glenn Richter, an organizer of the service at the Isaiah Peace Wall (search).

Israel (search) closed the Gaza Strip to Israeli civilians late Sunday. Soldiers lowered a road barrier at the Kissufim Crossing between Israel and Gaza, with a sign reading: "Stop, entry into the Gaza Strip and presence there is prohibited by law."

In New York, Esther Neistein held a sign that read, "Don't make a legal terrorist state," referring to the Palestinian takeover of Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank.

"This was Jewish land thousands of years ago, and we won it back in the Six Day War" in 1967, Neistein said.

A block away, a half-dozen anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox Jews who oppose a Jewish state for religious reasons held Palestinian flags. At one point, a young man tried to grab one of the flags, but police restrained him.

"We want the peaceful dismantlement of the Jewish settlements in Gaza — and of Israel," said Rabbi David Feldman, a teacher in a Rockland County Hasidic Jewish community, whose viewpoint is in the minority among religious Jews.