(New York Jewish Week) – As reports from Israel and Gaza painted a picture of the region plunged into chaos, dozens of people came together halfway across the world to process the incoming news, share resources and offer a helping hand and a tight hug to anyone who might need it.
Held in the lobby of the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, an impromptu support gathering for local Jews, Israelis and other New Yorkers in the metro area coincided with Saturday’s Shabbat and Shemini Atzeret celebrations, and took the place of cancelled pro-democracy rallies against the Israeli government.
Reactions around the room from attendees who requested to remain anonymous all spoke to the same feeling: “shocked,” several said. “Terrible,” said one man. “Dead inside,” another woman answered. “It feels like a movie,” said a third. They had come to the JCC for a variety of reasons: to be with other people in a time of fear; to learn more information about what is happening; to find out how they can help and to show their support for Israel.
On Saturday morning in Israel, as many civilians prepared for a day of Shabbat and holiday celebrations. Hamas militants launched a surprise attack out of Gaza, sending thousands of rockets into the country, taking over kibbutzim and kidnapping Israelis. Official reports count more than 300 Israelis dead and over 1,500 wounded, though numbers are expected to rise. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared “we are at war,” in response to the attacks.
The JCC is often a “meeting ground for when anything happens,” Rabbi Joanna Samuels, the organization’s CEO, told the New York Jewish Week. “It’s a huge privilege and responsibility of this space that we can open the doors to our community when something happens and we need to gather.”
There was no formal agenda for the meeting. Rather the hope was to provide a space for community members to simply be with each other in a time of crisis and uncertainty. Messages about the gathering were sent via WhatsApp and text message throughout the morning; as the afternoon wore on, more and more people showed up, decked out in rain gear and many with children in tow.
Huddled over coffee and donuts, attendees chatted quietly; some crying and hugging, others communicating with friends and family over WhatsApp, still more with their phones open to Israeli and American news broadcasts.
“We really just wanted to create a space where we can all come together and support each other and strengthen each other and not sit alone at home in front of the television,” Sivan Aloni, the regional director of the Israeli-American Council in New York, told the room. “So really, thank you everyone for coming. Because you’re not only supporting yourself, you’re supporting everyone here in the room.”
For 86-year-old Aryeh Aloni, who fought in the 1956 Sinai Campaign, the war is the worst-case scenario imagined by those who, like him, have protested Israel’s current government for the last year — and experienced the last 75 years of Israeli and Palestinian history. “My parents are rolling in their graves,” he said. “I feel terrible.”
“It’s shocking. It’s cruel. Now what’s going to happen? Who will pay the price but thousands and thousands of innocent Palestinians and Israelis,” he added. Aloni said that while he has lived in the United States since the early 1960s, he has 21 first cousins living in Israel — and many of their descendants were called up from the military reserves earlier this morning.
Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, the Israeli-American founding director of the Lab/Shul community, noted that the attack also coincided In Israel with Simchat Torah (which began in the Diaspora on Saturday evening).
“I’m 54 years old,” he said. “On Oct. 6 ,1973, the middle of the Yom Kippur, the war broke out. I was too young to know. My father and many other men were taken from the synagogue straight to the army. My memory is from the next day in our backyard, with the sukkah half-built and there was a siren. My mother dragged me by the arm to go to the shelter next door.
“I can’t believe that 50 years later, I have to explain to my children what’s going on and that Simchat Torah, the day in which we celebrate our sacred story and our continuity, now, like Yom Kippur, is forever marked with this continuing story of trauma.”
Lau-Lavie encouraged those in the room to share their emotions and not “keep things bottled up” or “sit in front of the phone and doomscroll.”
“This and other gatherings will help us,” he said. “Please hold each other. We’re not alone.”
Also present at the gathering was Tsach Saar, the deputy and acting Israeli consul general in New York. “It’s a very difficult day for all of us. There’s not too much to say, just to be together, I’m very happy to see the Israeli community and Jewish community being together and here for another,” Saar said. He offered a listening ear and to provide as many answers as he could give in the moment.
Some guests asked about canceled flights to and from Israel. Others wanted to know what they could do to help. “Where was the IDF?” Aloni, the veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, wanted to know, wondering like many observers why the military had not anticipated the Hamas assault. Saar answered that the situation is still being investigated.
A QR code was passed around the room for those who wanted to participate in support efforts, including hosting visiting Israelis whose return flights may have been delayed or canceled due to the war.
Across the city, communities were mobilizing to conduct responses. At Anshe Chesed, a Conservative congregation on the Upper West Side, an email was sent out to community members that the Simchat Torah celebration scheduled for Saturday night would be canceled.
“New York City has the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel, and we stand side by side with Israel every day — but we do so with extra resolve today in light of Hamas’ unprovoked terrorist attacks directed at the country and its people,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a press release Saturday morning. “Today’s attack, coming at the end of what is supposed to be a celebratory time at the end of the Jewish High Holy days, is nothing more than a cowardly action by a terrorist organization seeking to undo that peace and divide us into factions. That won’t happen.”
The release added that there is “no credible threat” to the city at this time and that the Adams administration is in touch with Jewish leaders across the city. The NYPD is deploying additional resources to Jewish community organizations and synagogues across the city.
Eric Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation Of New York, was in Israel when the hostilities broke out. “We are working with our partners to provide urgent resources. New York — the largest Jewish community outside of Israel — is in unbreakable solidarity with Israel at war,” he said in a statement. “The global Jewish community stands in unity with the Israeli people and share their grief and anger at this callous, cowardly assault on Israeli citizens.”
The gathering at the JCC concluded with the entire room — which had grown to nearly 100 people over the course of an hour — rising together to sing Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” which means “The Hope.” “Our hope is not yet lost, It is two thousand years old,” they sang in Hebrew. “To be a free people in our land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
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In a rare move, the US House of Representatives censures Rashida Tlaib for Israel remarks
WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives censured Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian American Democrat, for her rhetoric in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion of Israel, including using the term “from the river to the sea.”
The 234-188 vote late Tuesday night saw 22 Democrats vote to censure Tlaib, and was sure to sharpen divides among Democrats over Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza. Some Democrats vehemently defended Tlaib’s right to free speech and others said the “From the river to the sea” term signifies the elimination of Israel. The vote was largely on party lines, reflecting the Republican majority, though four Republicans voted against censuring Tlaib.
Tlaib said she would not be intimidated by the censure vote, which will require her to stand in the well of the House chamber and listen to House Speaker Mike Johnson explain why she is being censured. “I will not be silenced and I will not let you distort my words,” she said.
The censure resolution was initiated by Rep. Rich McCormick, a Georgia Republican, and focused on statements by Tlaib since Hamas launched the war. It noted that Tlaib used the phrase on “from the river to the sea” Nov. 3 on social media and argued that “it is widely recognized as a genocidal call to violence to destroy the state of Israel and its people to replace it with a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”
Tlaib in her Nov. 3 post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, said she used the phrase to describe a democratic outcome for all in that region. “From the river to the sea is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate,” she said. “My work and advocacy is always centered in justice and dignity for all people no matter faith or ethnicity.”
A number of Jewish Democrats decried the use of the phrase, but said limiting her speech set a dangerous precedent.
“As I have repeatedly made clear, I disagree vehemently with the comments made by Rep. Tlaib and condone no rhetoric that rejects the Jewish people’s right to self determination,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat who is the dean of the House’s unofficial Jewish caucus. “I also defend the freedom of speech that each and every American is granted by our Constitution, even when I find that speech to be reprehensible, as I do in this case.”
Other Jewish Democrats said Tlaib’s offenses were serious enough to merit censure, which most recently was used on California Rep. Adam Schiff, a Jewish Democrat targeted by republicans for his work investigating former President Donald Trump.
“I recognize this censure resolution is not a perfect resolution in its language or form, but unfortunately it is the only vehicle available to formally rebuke the dangerous disinformation and aspersions that Rep. Tlaib continues to use and defend,” said a statement from Illinois Rep. Brad Schneider, who, like McCormick’s resolution, also cited the weeks during which Tlaib promoted a claim that Israel was responsible for hitting a hospital early in the conflict. A range of reporting and intelligence assessments determined the hospital was hit by a misfired Palestinian rocket. “I feel that I have no other recourse but to vote to censure her.”
Other Jewish Democrats joining Schneider in censuring Tlaib include Rep. Kathy Manning of North Carolina, Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel and Jared Moskowitz of Florida, Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Rep. Daniel Goldman of New York , Rep. Greg Landsman of Ohio, Rep. Kim Schrier of Washington and Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee.
At one point Tlaib grew emotional. She was surrounded by progressives associated with the “Squad,” a group of representatives known in part for harshly criticizing Israel. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, put her hand atop hers. “Palestinian people are not disposable, we are human beings like anyone else,” Tlaib said.
Tlaib is leading an effort to get Congress to urge President Joe Biden to pressure Israel into a ceasefire, something that Biden and Israel reject. Israel is determined to keep fighting until Hamas returns the more than 200 hostages it abducted into the Gaza Strip, and until the terror group is dismantled.
“Trying to bully or censor me won’t work because this movement to a ceasefire is bigger than one person,” she said.
Tensions over the ceasefire and how best to deal with the war are roiling Democrats. Earlier in the day, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat who is the minority leader, did not recommend a vote either way, but said the “River’ phrase was unacceptable discourse. “Echoing slogans that are widely understood as calling for the complete destruction of Israel — such as from the River to the Sea — does not advance progress toward a two-state solution,” he said. “Instead, it unacceptably risks further polarization, division and incitement to violence.”
It was the second attempt to censure Tlaib since the war started; a resolution advanced by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, another Georgia Republican, failed in part because it packed in condemnations of the prosecution of rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a bid to overturn Biden’s election.
Tlaib said that calling her antisemitic was a means of censoring her. “The idea that criticizing the government of Israel is antisemitic sets a very dangerous precedent,” she said.
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Flowers, candles and anger at LA street corner where a Jewish pro-Israel protester was killed
THOUSAND OAKS, California (JTA) — Elena Colomba was on her hands and knees, covered in chalk, drawing a large blue Star of David on the sidewalk on Tuesday — a tribute to Paul Kessler, the Jewish man and pro-Israel protester who died Monday after an altercation with a pro-Palestinian protester.
The middle of the star framed bloodstains from Kessler’s fall that were still visible.
“I am a Jew by choice, and I’m here to hold space for my brother from another mother,” Colomba, who completed her conversion to Judaism in June, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Colomba, who lives in nearby West Hills and is a member of Hamakom Synagogue, said she had come to the scene of the incident Monday night around 8:30 p.m. and stayed until 1 a.m. before returning later on Tuesday morning.
Her star was surrounded by Israeli and American flags, yahrzeit candles and printouts of news stories of Kessler’s death. There were also signs featuring Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.
And there were flowers. Bouquets and bouquets of blooms in all colors, part of a $400 haul purchased by a man named Marcus who said he felt compelled to do something, anything, in response to Kessler’s death.
A Jewish father who declined to share his last name, Marcus said he had bought out a local grocery store’s flower supply with the ambition of covering the sidewalk at this intersection in Thousand Oaks, a suburb north of Los Angeles.
“When a man who’s in his 60s gets pounded in his face for standing up for Israel, every Jew needs to do something,” Marcus told JTA.
“I would rather put flowers on this corner, and put so many f—ing flowers, so there’s nowhere for these assholes to stand,” he said, referring to pro-Palestinian protesters. He said he planned to buy more and continue to line the sidewalks until each of the four corners of the large intersection where the rally had taken place were “covered with love.”
At the local Sprouts Farmers Market store where Marcus shopped, an employee confirmed to JTA that Marcus had purchased the store’s entire stock of flowers. The employee said he was unable to comment further due to his company’s policies, but said he was glad to help.
“If I didn’t do something, I felt like it was 1930 again,” Marcus said.
Colomba said people had walked by throughout the day cursing at her and yelling “Free Palestine.”
“And my response is, ‘I’m sending you love,’ because we need more love in this shattered world,” she said. Colomba said she also volunteers with her local chevra kadisha, a group that facilitates Jewish burial efforts.
Another local woman, who declined to share her name, told JTA she was Israeli and had family members who had been killed at the music festival where Hamas massacred 260 people on Oct. 7.
“The attacks are on our doorsteps,” she said after placing flowers on the sidewalk. “It’s coming to us on all fronts.”
The woman said she felt relatively safe there compared to in other neighborhoods, but on the whole her sense of security had been shattered.
“I want the person who was involved to be held accountable,” she added. “I want the world to know what happened here. I want people to wake up.”
Rabbi Moshe Bryski, the executive director of the Chabad of Agoura Hills, just a few miles down the road from the scene of the altercation, told JTA that his community was experiencing a mix of emotions, including “sadness, outrage, concern, but at the same time resolute and strong and united.”
Bryski, who had just spent a week in Israel, during which he met with the families of some of the hostages, said he did not know Kessler personally. He said a community vigil would be planned, in coordination with the family, which had been requesting privacy.
Speaking to JTA moments before the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference on the matter, Byrski said the incident was “sure looking like a hate crime. If someone goes with an Israeli flag to an event and comes back dead, that sounds like hate to me.”
Sheriff James Fryhoff said investigators had not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime. A 50-year-old suspect has been identified but not arrested, and an investigation is ongoing, he said.
Later in the afternoon, the sidewalk, situated in front of a Shell gas station, was crowded with reporters and news cameras as a makeshift press conference was held, featuring remarks from Rabbi Mark Blazer, the president of the Jewish Life Foundation and rabbi at nearby Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita; Jonathan Oswaks, who had attended the rally with Kessler and witnessed the altercation; and Elan Carr, the CEO of the Israeli American Council and former antisemitism envoy under President Donald Trump.
As the speakers each addressed the cameras, there were repeated pleas for law enforcement to act and for continued support of Israel and Jews in light of the continuing war in Gaza. The tone had turned noticeably more urgent and outraged.
“Stop killing us!” Blazer exclaimed at the end of his remarks. “Whether it’s in Israel or here in Southern California.” He said he was leaving for Israel this week and would bring Kessler’s story with him.
Oswaks, who was visibly shaken and angry, spoke for nearly 20 minutes, detailing his experience at Sunday’s rally and at a prior gathering two weeks ago. He said he attended both events with Kessler.
“None of you are safe!” Oswaks shouted into the cameras at one point during his remarks.
Oswaks said he had met Kessler two weeks ago on the NextDoor hyperlocal social networking app and didn’t know him well — adding that he didn’t even know Kessler’s last name when he attempted to visit him in the emergency room.
“He was a passionate Jew,” Oswaks said of Kessler, who he said had insisted on holding the Israeli flag they had brought that was later seen in photos of the altercation.
Kessler was also a dedicated author of letters to the editor to the Thousand Oaks Acorn, according to an editor there, who characterized him in a social media post as “an ardent Democrat” with a “sharp wit.”
The press conference concluded with the chanting of “El Maleh Rahamim,” the prayer traditionally recited at Jewish funerals, by Kenny Ellis, the cantor at Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks, where Kessler was a member along with his wife. Kessler’s funeral was also held on Tuesday.
Ellis told JTA that Kessler and his wife Cheryl had been more active in the synagogue when they were younger. While he said he does not know Kessler personally, Ellis said he had “only heard wonderful things about him,” adding that he was “kind and giving.”
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Biden confirms asking Netanyahu to ‘pause’ fighting in Gaza
Israeli envoy to US shows video of Hamas massacres to fellow ambassadors in Washington, at event marking one month since Gaza-ruling terror group’s onslaught in southern Israel
The post Biden confirms asking Netanyahu to ‘pause’ fighting in Gaza appeared first on The Times of Israel.