Westchester residents, clergy and elected officials packed Temple Israel Center in White Plains Tuesday night in a solidarity rally for Israel three days after brutal terrorist attacks by Hamas left more than 1,000 people dead.
The rally, organized by the Westchester Jewish Council (WJC) and several of its member organizations, sought to demonstrate that there is a supportive alliance in the county. Residents were encouraged to make donations or find other ways to help Israelis in their struggle.
Many who call Westchester home as well thousands of others who live in the metropolitan area have family and friends in Israel.
“My message here tonight is to stay strong, stay vigilant and make sure the United States continues to stand behind its ally, Israel, which is trying to do the same thing the U.S. did after being attacked in 1941 at Pearl Harbor and in 2001 at the World Trade Center,” said WJC President William Schrag.
“Stay strong and let’s make sure the people of Israel know Westchester remains solidly behind the Jewish people in its hour of need,” he added.
A few of the 15 speakers compared Saturday’s attack to the pogroms of Eastern Europe more than a century ago, organized massacres of Jewish communities. Most of the roughly 1,100 Israel deaths were of civilians, with the death toll expected to rise, and over 100 others were taken hostage and being held by Hamas. There were also reports of women raped, killed and dragged through the streets.
On Tuesday, news broke that 40 babies were killed at a kibbutz in Kfar Aza, some of them beheaded.
Belle Yoeli, chief advocacy officer for the American Jewish Committee, said there is no justification for the attacks. Anyone or any group defending Hamas’ actions would be like trying to justify Al-Qaeda hijacking four airplanes on 9/11, she said.
Like many of the other speakers, Yoeli thanked the roughly 1,200 in attendance and a similar number who had signed up for the live-stream. She said support for Israel is critical for the country.
“I know so many of us feel helpless, and showing up to support Israel in this rally together is one of the most important things we can do right now in addition to supporting organizations like UJA and others that are providing funds,” Yoeli said.
UJA-Federation has allocated $10 million from its endowment to support crisis-related needs, said Tara Slone-Goldstein, Westchester regional chair for UJA. The money will go to organizations such as the Victims of Terror Fund to help the grieving families, chartering flights from locations around the world to transport Israel troops back to their homeland, emergency medical supplies and retraining social workers and therapists in Israel to work with surviving relatives, she said.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer pledged support for Israel and the Jewish community locally. Late Monday, he ordered flags flown at half-mast in memory of those slain.
However, it’s not just the burden of the Jewish community to support Israel but all those who want to see democracies prosper even when there are disagreements with them on policy.
“Israelis have worked for 75 years to build a land that is more inclusive than the lands that surround them, and if we do not back democracies here – and democracies are imperfect, ours is imperfect, Israel’s is imperfect – but if we do not back democracy here, we will see democracy fail in every corner of the globe,” Latimer said.
Rev. Erwin Lee Trollinger Jr. of Calvary Baptist Church in White Plains spoke of the support his congregation received from the community after a white gunmen murdered congregants in a Charleston, S.C. church, and it was time to repay that debt and to condemn the attacks.
He said Israel is the birthplace of many of the world’s major religions and all must make sure to protect a place of common heritage.
Itay Milner, spokesman for the consul of media affairs at the Israeli consulate in New York, vowed that his country will prevail. Throughout history whenever the Jewish people have faced an enemy looking to destroy them, they have fought back and will do so again now.
“So we’re going to go there and we’re going to smoke them out of their caves,” Milner said. “We’re going to get everyone and we’re going to get them into justice.”
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/