Am Yisrael Chai, the Nation of Israel lives, and its destiny is our destiny.
The United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, Inc. (UJA) alongside the Jewish Community Relations Council, New York chapter (JCRC-NY), and the Consulate General of Israel for New York held a community solidarity gathering on Wednesday, May 12, entitled, “New York Stands with Israel.” The program was designed to further engrain in our elected officials and the world media that the electorate of New York and its leadership unite with Israel during its time of peril.
By the start of the meeting, Israel had seen over one thousand rockets launched into its cities and towns by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Blaring warning sirens of incoming rockets had become the norm throughout the country, from Ashkelon to Jerusalem to Herzliya, as the death and injury counts showed no signs of relenting. With pained hearts for their brothers and sisters in Israel, and prayers for an end to the violence, the leadership gathered virtually in solidarity to demonstrate an unbreakable bond with the people of Israel and the restoration of peace and stability ahead of the Shavuos holiday.
The program began with the heartfelt melody “Ochilah,” sung by Ishay Ribo. The song, translated as “I Shall Wait,” tells of an individual reaching out to his Father in heaven and asking to be granted eloquent speech in order to be able to sing of His strength and be able to burst forth in joyous tunes for His efforts.
“After weeks of unrest and protest, violence erupted on Monday. In the span of 24 hours, nearly 1,000 rockets were launched at Israel. That means one rocket every two minutes. Now, 48 hours into this violence, we see no sign of it stopping,” said Amy A. B. Pressman, president of UJA Federation. “There is never any justification for sending hundreds of rockets into civilian neighborhoods, ever. We stand ready to support the people of Israel, however we can. We share an unbreakable bond. Our hearts are also with our family around the world. There have been reports of anti-Israel activity in Germany and Spain. And we stand in unity with them.”
Michael S. Miller, executive vice president and CEO of JCRC-NY, described some of his feelings with the pretext of his own two daughters living in Israel along with their husbands and his nine grandchildren, and dozens of other relatives. “With hundreds of rockets being launched every night from Gaza as Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists indiscriminately target civilian populations in cities, towns, kibbutzim, moshavim, and throughout Israel’s midsection, I asked us to think about the sirens in the middle of the night, waking restless Israelis in their beds, gathering up their children or elderly parents, and then racing to the safe room with only 20 seconds to get there.” To show how close our lives are intertwined with those of our Israeli brethren, Miller revealed that he was headed to Israel for Shabbos BaMidbar and the Yom Tov of Shavuos.
“Israel is currently experiencing a wave of large-scale terrorism. We have six Israelis, Israeli civilians who were killed, including a six-year-old child only a few hours ago; more than one million Israeli civilians are currently under the threat of rapid fire from Gaza. No other country would tolerate such extreme terrorism and aggression against its sovereignty and its citizens,” said Israel Nitzan, Acting Israeli Consul General of New York. “Israel has the right, but even more than the right – the obligation to defend its citizens.”
In explaining the terror, Israel’s right to defend its citizens, and its concern for human rights, Nitzan explained, “The citizens of Israel are facing – Jews and non-Jews – Hamas’ hatred towards Israel and the Jews. Their missiles show no prejudice, and Hamas is actually targeting the diversity of Israeli society.” Nitzan detailed the deaths of an Arab father and daughter in Lod, and an Indian national in Ashkelon. “We will do whatever we can in order to avoid harming people – innocent civilians – while Hamas and its affiliates clearly don’t care about human lives. Hamas is a murderous terrorist organization that is responsible for the death and injury of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian civilians. Hamas’ founding charter is an anti-Semitic document that endorses the murder of Jews solely on the basis of their religion.” Nitzan added, “While presenting itself as the defender of Jerusalem and the holy sites, Hamas chose to escalate the situation by actually shooting rockets at Jerusalem, our capital, which is only the third holiest space for Islam. Think about this hypocrisy – Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, the holy sites were targeted by Hamas.”
Eric S. Goldstein, CEO of the UJA, also revealed that he was set to fly out to Israel following the meeting to visit his 18-year-old daughter, who is studying during her gap year and has been separated from the family for nearly nine months due to COVID restrictions. Goldstein encouraged viewers to reach out to our loved ones. “Let them feel the embrace and support of the worldwide Jewish community. That’s what this solidarity gathering is all about. If we can’t be there physically, we must be here virtually, and we must be loud, and we must be incredibly strong and supportive of Israel in this moment.”
US Representative Ritchie Torres of New York’s 14th Congressional District in the South Bronx, and the Vice Chair of the Committee on Homeland Security, said, “Israel’s under siege, not only from the rocket fire – relentless rocket fire at the hands of Hamas – but also from the endless propaganda war that has taken on a new intensity, especially here in the United States.” Torres pledged to an “unwavering commitment to both the sovereignty and security of Israel as a Jewish state” and advised of her right to self-defense. “Why should Israel be an exception to the rule? Why should Israel be held to a deadly double standard in a moment of terror?” Torres questioned, adding, “It is unreasonable to expect a nation state to be the passive target of hundreds of rockets, and then forfeit the right to defend itself, amid a constant stream of terror. No likeminded person would impose that kind of self-destructive burden on any other country.”
Torres then took aim at the lies being promulgated, specifically that the deceptive reframing of Hamas terrorism as self-defense and Israel’s resistance as terrorism. “Increasingly, we seem to live in an Orwellian universe, where the truth no longer matters.” Torres called on his fellow elected officials “to be visible and vocal, fearless and forceful, in standing up for our greatest friend in the Middle East, support for Israel, especially in moments like these, is not for the faint-hearted.” Torres then took aim at his cynics: “The moment I saw a statement announcing the rocket fire from Hamas, I was swiftly denounced by BDS extremists as a white supremacist, as a supporter of apartheid and ethnic cleansing and genocide – terms that have been stripped of their original and proper meaning.”
Torres reaffirmed his commitment and pledged to speak out and not be “silenced by an overbearing Twitter mob dominated by the extremes of American politics.”
The conversation continued with Congressman Gregory W. Meeks, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, who called the acts of Hamas “war crimes by trying to hide behind civilian individuals.” Meeks, on behalf of the Committee, offered the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, complete support and proposing to ship “whatever needs to be sent to Israel for its protection.” Meeks went on to praise Israeli forces for their restraint, “From what I understand, they have sent drones over those buildings first and these are buildings that are known to have been controlled by Hamas, but still in the attempt to save innocent lives, they sent drones over to go on the folks that show not that they have the ability to bomb and that they will bomb, they are watching as folks leave the buildings, and only after individuals are out of the buildings have the bombs been dropped.”
Zehava Tesfay, who is on shlichut here in New York as an emissary of The Jewish Agency for Israel, spoke of her family’s trials and tribulations running to bomb shelters. “You need to snap out of it as quickly as you can, because your children are dependent on you. This is the unbearable reality.” She recollected her feelings around images that surfaced of fathers, both Jewish and Arab, in hospital gowns standing in the shelters of the Barzilai Medical Center with their premature babies in hand as the sirens continued to wail.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor, scholar-in-residence at UJA, recited Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s Y’hi Ratzon, “A Prayer For Peace,” as his daughter in Teveryah and his parents, sister, and her family in Tel Aviv were under constant threat of attack. “I repeat the prayer here for us all to deliver as peace remains ambiguous in the State of Israel.”
Congress Member Grace Meng was scheduled to appear on the call, but was unavailable and vowed to join in the future.
The program closed out with a rendition of “Oseh Shalom” by the cantor of Park East Synagogue. The words said during each t’filah resonate daily, but are especially earnest when in times of uncertainty: “May the One who creates peace in high places, bring peace to us and to all of Israel, and let us say, Amen.”
By Shabsie Saphirstein