Members of local communities gathered in solidarity with Israel last week, impassioned and tearful as they delivered messages of hope and unity.
They sought comfort from one another at a South Merrick Community Civic Association meeting on Oct. 19. The conflict thousands of miles from where they stood hits close to home amid the large Jewish population on Long Island.
“It’s just so powerful when we come together to hold each other up and support each other during challenging and difficult times,” said Rabbi Josh Dorsch of the Merrick Jewish Centre.
Nearly three weeks into the state of war between Israel and Hamas, more than 1,400 Israelis have been killed, and over 5,000 have been injured. At least 32 of those killed were American, according to the U.S. State Department, and Hamas captured roughly 200 hostages.
In retaliatory attacks, thousands have been killed in Gaza, where an estimated 600 Americans remain trapped.
The civic association meeting amplified the heartbroken — but nevertheless hopeful —voices of Jewish community members from Merrick, Bellmore and East Meadow.
Opening with a moment of silence for those in Israel who were killed or are being held hostage, it was led by Rabbi Mickey Baum, of Temple Beth Am of Merrick and Bellmore, Dorsch and Deacon Ron Federici, of the Curé of Ars Roman Catholic Church in Merrick.
The overarching message was a call for unity among all members of the community, Jewish or not.
“Now more than ever, it is essential that we as a Jewish people stand together,” Sofie Glassman, a junior at East Meadow High School, said.
“We cannot afford for anybody to be silent. Your voice matters.”
Glassman has spoken openly about her struggles with antisemitism since she was in kindergarten. At Barnum Woods Elementary School, she asked another student if she could play with her, and, Glassman says, she was turned away simply because she was Jewish.
She is now a member of a dozen Jewish organizations, which have helped her use her voice to stand up for the religion, for her Jewish peers and for Israel. She spreads her message on social media, and, Glassman spent a month last summer in Israel, where she made many friends her age, who now live in a country at war.
Jake Novak, a political analyst, economist, editorial columnist and former media director at the Israeli consulate in New York, shared Glassman’s sentiment. “For better or for worse, social media is where the world is getting its news,” Novak said.
“For hundreds of years, there was peace in the Middle East,” he added. “Get that story out there.”
Novak told a story of Jewish friends of his from Long Island, encountering Christian neighbors who offered condolences and expressed their support. “This is not a time for an awkward smile, or just a thank you and say goodbye,” he said. “This is a time to know exactly what we want them to do, beyond saying they’re sorry.”
Baum said that the war is not isolated to Israel, but rather has reached Jewish people around the world. They are being warned not to wear their kippahs, caps traditionally worn by Jewish males, or Stars of David, for fear of being attacked. “Our children are not safe,” Baum said.
“Be strong, be strong, and we will be strong,” he added. “The people of Israel live. The State of Israel lives. Alive and enduring.”
Though they had gathered under difficult circumstances, Dorsch commended the evening’s speakers for their “powerful, beautiful and inspiring” words.
Dorsch encouraged those in attendance not only to reach out to friends and family in support and solidarity, but also to educate themselves.
“We need to read, we need to watch, we need to gather as much information as you possibly can,” he said. “We need to do our homework.”
Assemblyman Dave McDonough, who was among the attendees, said there was a need to start educating younger students all the way through high school, to prevent incidents of antisemitism.
“People are not born to hate, they are taught to hate, and we as a society must do better to teach peace, to teach love and to teach tolerance,” County Legislator Michael Giangregorio said. “We all have to do better.”
Giangregorio has been forthright in his support of Israel and the Jewish community with his stance against hate, including any form of antisemitism or bigotry toward those with disabilities.
“We need to be tolerant and welcoming, and loving of each other,” he said.