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‘A flame of faith that endures’: Biden’s Hanukkah party centers on the Oct. 7 massacre

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Joe Biden had a menorah custom-made from a White House beam, but it was another menorah from thousands of miles away that elicited the most powerful reaction at the annual White House Hanukkah party Monday night.

Partygoers making their way up to the mansion’s residence, where the celebration took place, passed a landing where a smaller menorah was on display, one recovered from the rubble of a home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, one of the villages targeted in Hamas’ terror attack on Israel two months ago.

“This menorah miraculously survived the October 7th massacre against the people of Israel,” said a framed plaque with the White House insignia. 

The grief of the Oct. 7 massacre, and the determination to prevent its recurrence, permeated the festivities Monday night, where Biden welcomed more than 800 guests — the White House’s largest party of the season.

“From the Maccabees defeating one of history’s most powerful empires, and oil lasting eight days – it’s as a miracle all by itself, a flame of faith that endures from tragedy to persecution, to survival and to hope,” Biden said. “Most of you know someone directly or indirectly, a family friend who was stolen from you or wounded or traumatized, called up for  reserve duty after this last attack in Israel.”

Biden stood in the East Room before the main menorah, which was introduced last year by First Lady Jill Biden as the first permanent White House menorah. It was fashioned by resident carpenters from wood left over from a previous renovation to symbolize the permanence of the U.S. Jewish community.

But the focus at this event was Israel, and its meaning to Jews as a bulwark against persecution. 

“As I said after the attack, my commitment to the safety of Jewish people, the security of Israel, its right to exist as an independent Jewish state is unshakeable,” he said. “Folks, were there no Israel there wouldn’t be a Jew in the world who was safe.”

The crowd applauded and cheered. A minute later, Biden committed to backing one of Israel’s goals in the war, the eradication of Hamas, implicitly rejecting growing calls from the left, including from some in his party, for a ceasefire.

“We will continue to provide military assistance to Israel until they get rid of Hamas,” he said to more cheers.

Biden alluded to the failure of human rights groups to immediately condemn sexual violence that took place in the Oct. 7 attack.

“Let me be clear, Hamas using rape, sexual violence and terrorism and torture of Israeli women and girls was appalling and unforgivable,” Biden said. “When I was there, I saw some of the photographs, it was beyond” – Biden paused — “just beyond comprehension.”

Biden addressed the shock of many Jews after the attack, compounded by the isolation many felt when they did not hear condemnations from the left. He thanked Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Jewish Democratic Senate majority leader from New York, for his recent speech in the Senate excoriating many in his own party for playing down the significance of the massacre.

“I also recognize your hurt from the silence and the fear for your safety,” he said. “There’s a surge of antisemitism in the United States of America and around the world. It’s sickening. I know we see it across our communities in schools and colleges on social media. They surface painful scars from millennia.”

CNN reported that families of U.S. citizens still held hostage by Hamas in Gaza asked to be invited to the event, but were turned down. The White House declined to comment.

Lighting the menorah on the fifth night of Hanukkah was Doug Emhoff, the Jewish second gentleman, and four white staffers who were descended from Holocaust survivors. Biden met before the ceremony with five Holocaust survivors. He told the crowd that when his children and grandchildren come of age, he flies them to Germany to tour the Dachau concentration camp.

“I want them to see, I want them to spend the day there and see, you can’t pretend you don’t know: silence is complicity,” he said.

The plaque in front of the Kfar Aza menorah echoed Biden’s speech. “It is a reminder of the flame of faith that endures from tragedy and persecution, and is a symbol of the Jewish people’s eternal spirit of resilience and hope that continues to shine its light on the world,” it said.

Across from the Kfar Aza menorah, a military band played Jewish music throughout the evening. In another corner of the entrance hall, the U.S. Air Force Jewish Cadet Choir performed.

“This song is dedicated to the hostages,” the choirmaster said as people made their way upstairs.

The chorus launched into “Acheinu,” a Jewish prayer for those in harm’s way, to a melody by the Canadian songwriter Abie Rotenberg.

“Our brethren, all of Israel, subject to sorrow and to captivity, caught between the land and the sea,” they sang in Hebrew.


The post ‘A flame of faith that endures’: Biden’s Hanukkah party centers on the Oct. 7 massacre appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Second Synagogue in Tunisia Attacked Since October 7

A screenshot from a video of Tunisian rioters burning the El-Hamma synagogue on Tuesday, Oct. 17. Source: Twitter

A mob set fire to the courtyard of a Tunisian synagogue in the city of Sfax on Sunday, the second such incident since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.

Nobody was injured in the fire — as there are no Jews left in Sfax — and authorities were able to put out the fire before it spread and destroyed the building, but reported showed significant damage to parts of the synagogue.

Israeli Historian Edy Cohen posted a video of the fire and explained that this is yet another example of antisemitism in Tunisia. He argued that “Israel through the Western countries must help Tunisian Jews.”

האנטישמיות בתוניסיה
היום בבוקר נשרף בית כנסת עתיק בתוניסיה .
כתבתי עשרות פוסטים ומאמרים על האנטישמיות הגואה בתוניסיה אשר הגיעה לשיאה לפני פחות משנה כאשר נהרגו שני יהודים בפיגוע של קיצונים.
ישראל באמצעות מדינות המערב חייבת לעזור ליהודי תוניסה. pic.twitter.com/8Nw1jkjtiw

— אדי כהן Edy Cohen (@DREDYCOHEN) February 26, 2024

In 1948, there were an estimated 105,000 Jews in the country. However, by 1967, that number had declined to 20,000 after many fled to countries such as Israel and France, and today Tunisia is estimated to only have about 1,500 Jews.

This is not the first time an antisemitic mob set fire to a synagogue since Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack.

On October 17, rioters set fire to the el-Hamma Synagogue, doing considerable damage. People also entered the synagogue and destroyed much of it. The synagogue is not an active place of worship, as there are no Jews left in the city.

Videos from the riot show crowds of people walking in, around, and on top of the synagogue — including at least one person waving a large Palestinian flag.

En Tunisie, la synagogue d’El Hamma a été détruite et incendiée hier soir par des centaines d’émeutiers, sans la moindre intervention policière. De nombreuses vidéos sur TikTok et Facebook. Et pas la moindre mention dans les médias nationaux https://t.co/U601jWVYWq pic.twitter.com/6F8uIZhoe3

— Joseph Hirsch (@josephhirsch5) October 18, 2023

The riot was precipitated by false reports that Israel had bombed Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, resulting in more than 500 casualties. News outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post uncritically reported the story.

Later, reports from those same outlets, along with human rights groups, suggested that a rocket launched by Palestinian terrorists malfunctioned and hit the parking lot of the hospital, killing dozens. U.S. and Israeli intelligence also conclude this is what took place.

But the damage of the initial reporting was done, whipping much of the Arab world into a frenzy, resulting in huge protests and — in this case — mob violence.

Just a year prior to the war, there was a deadly terrorist attack against the El Ghriba Synagogue on the island of Djerba, where the vast majority of Tunisia’s Jews live. The terrorist opened fire on security guards, killing two and injuring six. He also shot at Jews at the synagogue, two of whom were killed and another four were injured.

The post Second Synagogue in Tunisia Attacked Since October 7 first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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From Ground Zero to the Gaza Border: US Medical Doctors Volunteer In Israel

A Hanukkiyah, a candlestick used during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, stands on the remains of a burnt windowsill, following a deadly infiltration by Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip, in Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel, Oct. 17, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

On September 12, 2001, Dr. Marc Wilkenfeld, a specialist in occupational medicine, was treating victims of terror at a site that would later become known as Ground Zero. More than 22 years later, Wilkenfeld found himself 6,000 miles away from Ground Zero treating terror victims in Israel. 

Wilkenfeld took leave of his job for two weeks to volunteer with IL-USDocAID, an initiative that was established in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attacks on October 7, in which more than 1200 people were murdered and 253 were abducted to Gaza. 

The project, a joint partnership between Israel’s Health Ministry and the Israel Economic Mission to the US, came in response to the sudden duress suffered by Israel’s health system from soaring casualties and the deployment of thousands of medical staff members, who serve in the IDF as reserve soldiers, to the frontlines.

Wilkenfeld said he was driven to come to Israel after seeing reports of mobilization efforts by Israeli civilians, some as early as October 7 itself. The idea of Israelis who were told to stay in their safe rooms rushing to help first responders wherever they could compelled him to action. 

“In America, you feel helpless. What are you going to do? The ability to go here and even play a small role, just to give some advice medically – it’s a beautiful thing,” he told The Algemeiner.

Wilkenfeld took his family with him, who volunteered by cooking for soldiers while he was treating people. 

In Israel, Wilkenfeld experienced many firsts. Despite 30 years of being active in the medical profession, including at the scenes of terror attacks, it was the first time he had ever encountered an ambulance station pockmarked by shrapnel and ambulances riddled with bullet holes. 

Visiting physicians are given a choice to volunteer with paramedics in ambulances or work directly inside hospitals. 

When you have a doctor in the ambulance there’s more you can do as a paramedic,” Wilkenfeld said. “It also gives real strength for the paramedics to know that people want to come and give help.”

Wilkenfeld said the visit taught him not to pay too much attention to misinformation about Israel. 

“I didn’t learn too much about medicine, but I learned a lot about Israel,” he said. “You read in the press that Israel is an apartheid state. But from a medical perspective it’s precisely the opposite.”

During his time in the country, Wilkenfeld said that all the patients he treated received the same medical care, from the “arab in east Jerusalem” to the “major rabbi from Har Nof,” an ultra-Orthodox suburb.  

He noted, however, that working in Jerusalem was vastly different from the south, which suffered the brunt of the onslaught, where people are still in an acute state of shock. 

“I’ve seen almost a thousand 9/11 responders, the responders in Sderot have the same look in their eyes,” he said of the southern Israeli city in which at least 50 civilians and 20 police officers were murdered. “They talk about the bodies in the ambulance station, about how to prioritize patients, that they haven’t slept in weeks.”

He also said that meeting with the families of hostages left him with a “terrible sadness,” rendering him speechless. Leaning on his medical expertise, however, eventually allowed Wilkenfeld to find his own voice to console them.

“It’s not possible to live in southern Israel and not have PTSD,” he said. 

Wilkenfeld returned to his job in New York, where he serves as chief of occupational medicine and clinical assistant professor at NYU-Langone in Long Island, with a somber sense of the realities facing Israel.

He is already working to recruit more volunteers for the project if war should come to Israel again.

If there is a next time, God forbid, now we can mobilize,” he said. “Now we know who to talk to, where things are.”

Parting ways with the Israeli medical personnel he worked alongside, Wilkenfeld was struck by their sacrifice amidst incomprehensible conditions.

“I leave and they have to live with this.” At the end of the day, he said, “they did much more for me than I did for them.”

To find out more about volunteering as a medic in Israel, click on the following link: IL-USDocAID: https://www.ilusdocaid.org/

The post From Ground Zero to the Gaza Border: US Medical Doctors Volunteer In Israel first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Israel’s Operation in Rafah Must Proceed

An UNRWA aid truck at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Photo: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

The IDF is operating in the Gaza Strip to implement the directives of the political echelon. The objectives the cabinet defined for the army at a meeting on October 16, 2023, are: toppling the Hamas regime and destroying its military and governmental capabilities, removing the terrorist threat from the Gaza Strip, creating conditions for the return of the hostages, and defending the borders of the state and its citizens while removing the security threat from Gaza, and leaving the IDF full freedom of action without restrictions on the use of force. The IDF is succeeding in systematically dismantling Hamas, although the fighting in Gaza is fierce and exacting painful costs. After more than four months of war, the IDF has taken control of the northern Gaza Strip and has full operational freedom of action in the area. The forces operate in a variety of ways to continue cleansing Hamas infrastructure — above and below ground. Progress has also been made in Khan Yunis, where the IDF is eliminating terrorists and destroying their infrastructure.

Hamas is deeply embedded in the population of the Gaza Strip. Not only do Hamas terrorists receive support and assistance from the population, some of the “civilian” population has intensified resistance and taken up arms against IDF forces. The event of Simchat Torah when a barbaric mob joined the Nukhba terrorists in carrying out the massacre in Gaza border communities, was not exceptional. In fact, this is a “popular” war with the participation of civilians. The Gaza Strip has seen the emergence of a generation whose sole goal is to kill and exterminate Jews. In the face of this resistance, the IDF is succeeding in advancing methodically and systematically.

Recently, questions have been raised as to whether Israel needs to extend operations to Rafah and the Philadelphi Corridor. The prime minister has already said on several occasions that this war will not end until the IDF operates in Rafah and takes over the Philadelphi Corridor. An operation in this arena is of great importance for several reasons. First, it is Hamas’ last organized stronghold in the Gaza Strip, and the elimination of Hamas’ military capabilities will not be achieved without the destruction of the battalions stationed there. Second, Israel must remove Hamas’ governmental capabilities in this area. Third, in order to free hostages, it is essential to reach the areas where they are held.

As we saw in the operation to rescue Fernando Simon Merman and Luis Hare, some of the hostages are being held in the Rafah area. Moreover, we need to realize that Israeli communities in areas opposite Rafah will not return to their homes if operational Hamas battalions are on the other side of the border. Finally, the border between Gaza and Egypt — the Philadelphi Corridor — still operates as a conduit for the entry of weapons into the Strip through a network of tunnels. The IDF will have to eliminate this smuggling route.

With the IDF’s advance in Khan Yunis, a chorus of countries began to announce their opposition to an IDF operation in Rafah, in most cases due to their concern for the large population of displaced persons in the Rafah area. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Feb. 12, 2024, that, “the Israelis have a commitment, an obligation to make sure that they can provide for the safety of innocent Palestinian people that are there [in Rafah].” He added that the US doesn’t “want to see any forced relocation of people out of Gaza … we support and continue to support an extended humanitarian pause.”

It should be remembered that as far as the United States is concerned, the operation in Rafah could interfere with the process it is trying to advance, the essence of which is the cessation of hostilities and agreement (or coercion on Israel) to bring the Palestinian Authority into the Gaza Strip, and thus enable the advancement of normalization with Saudi Arabia. It wants to do all this in a timetable that could give President Biden an achievement to present to the American electorate ahead of the presidential elections in November. Needless to say, this American desire does not correspond at all with the reality in the region and with the Israeli public’s position on the Palestinian Authority.

United Kingdom Foreign Secretary David Cameron said (Feb. 10, 2024) that the UK was “deeply concerned” about the possibility of military action in Rafah. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also said he was “deeply concerned about the loss of civilian life in Gaza and the potentially devastating humanitarian impact of a military incursion into Rafah.” French President Emmanuel Macron went further when he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about France’s “firm opposition to an Israeli offensive in Rafah, which could only lead to a humanitarian disaster of a new magnitude, as to any forced displacement of populations.” According to reports, Macron added that Israeli military action “would constitute violations of the international humanitarian law and would pose an additional risk of regional escalation.”

It should be noted that the number of non-combatant casualties in the Gaza Strip is among the lowest in the world when compared to all the wars in urban areas in the past hundred years. Even if we believe the reports of the Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, the ratio of civilian casualties is 1.3 non-combatants for each Hamas terrorist killed. This contrasts with a ratio of 5-7 non-combatants for every dead combatant in other urban battles where a large civilian population was present. The non-combatant casualty ratio in Gaza is particularly low because the IDF developed combat methods that have enabled it to dismantle Hamas while preserving the lives of civilians in the Gaza Strip in a way that no country has succeeded in doing (or did not even try or never wanted to succeed in doing so in the first place) in urban warfare in recent decades.

Egypt, for its part on the other hand, opposes the operation because it fears that the border will be breached and many Palestinians will flock into the Sinai Peninsula. Egyptian media even went so far as to claim that relations with Israel could be damaged if this happened. Egypt should be reminded of its laxity in preventing the strengthening of Hamas in the Gaza Strip due to the passage of weapons into Gaza through the Rafah crossing or through the tunnel network under the Philadelphi Corridor.

There has also been criticism of the IDF for not operating simultaneously in both the southern and northern Gaza Strip — but it is indeed easy to criticize those who actually do the work. The IDF, which has been severely curtailed in recent decades, found itself going to war with a very small order of battle given the challenges faced in Gaza. It was also necessary to direct some of the forces to Judea and Samaria and to defend the northern front. The IDF has thus been forced to manage the army’s resources, including reserves, in a way that will enable it to conduct a prolonged campaign. As a result, it also had to prioritize operations within the Gaza campaign itself.

The operation in Rafah is necessary and inevitable. So too is cutting off Hamas’ smuggling route along the Philadelphi Corridor. The IDF will have to create for itself complete operational freedom of action for decades to come in Gaza in order to eliminate any possibility of a rebuilding of terrorist capabilities there. There will also have to be a long process of de-Hamasification. Operating in Rafah and other terrorist centers in Gaza is an essential component in achieving the goals of the war, and as we have learned from the long months of fighting, the IDF will be able to carry out this operation successfully while maintaining the norms of international humanitarian law.

Gabi Siboni was director of the military and strategic affairs program, and the cyber research program, of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) from 2006-2020, where he founded academic journals on these matters. He serves as a senior consultant to the IDF and other Israeli security organizations and the security industry. He holds a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in engineering from Tel Aviv University and a Ph.D. in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) from Ben-Gurion University. A version of this article was originally published by The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. 

The post Israel’s Operation in Rafah Must Proceed first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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