5,000 people flocked to Eisenhower Park on Sunday for the United Jewish Appeal – Federation New York’s Long Island Stands with Israel rally, to express a slew of emotions over the events transpiring in the Middle East. It’s been just over a month since Hamas, a terrorist organization that controls the Gaza strip, began a war with the State of Israel, killing over 1,000 people and taking hundreds hostage.
The thousands that packed Eisenhower’s Harry Chapin Theatre, held both Israeli flags and signs, saying “We Stand With Israel,” “Free Palestinians From Hamas,” “Bring Them Home” and “Let My People Go,” among several other messages.
In the weeks following the initial attack, antisemitism and hateful acts against Jews around the world have been on a steady rise. According to an Oct. 31 Reuters article, the Anti-Defamation League reported that antisemitic incidents had risen by 400 percent in the weeks following Oct. 7, when compared to the same time period in 2022.
Mindy Perlmutter, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Long Island thanked County Executive Bruce Blakeman and the Nassau County Parks Department for allowing the rally to go off successfully, and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and the Nassau County Police Department for protecting the Jewish community. She welcomed Jewish War Veterans Post 652, who presented the color guard, as well as students from the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns & Rockaway, the North Shore Hebrew Academy and Solomon Schecter, who sang “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, followed by the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Rabbis and cantors, from dozens of Long Island congregations, blew shofars, officially signaling the start of the rally.
Pamela Barnett, chair of UJA Long Island, said it was hard to believe that Jews recently commemorated the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the organized attack against Jews and their businesses, conducted by the Nazi Party in 1938.
“It truly feels like history is repeating itself,” Barnett said.
Barnett said Israel has the right to defend itself and called on the world to “remember and unequivocally condemn Hamas.”
“1,400 innocent Israelis murdered, over 240 taken hostage, including infants and children, grandparents, entire families, people young and old, burned alive, raped, beheaded, and for no other reason than because they were Jewish,” she said.
“We stand unequivocally with Israel who is fighting terror on its border, as every sovereign nation must,” she went on. “Israel has the duty, the absolute obligation, to protect its citizens and its country. And at the same time, we grieve for the suffering of innocent, innocent Palestinian civilians who are also victims of Hamas’ brutality.”
She added that the increase in antisemitism must not hinder the community from living “proudly, public Jewish lives.”
New York State Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader and highest ranking Jewish official ever elected in the U.S., said he is working tirelessly to ensure that Israel is supported.
“I was the first elected official to go to Israel after Oct. 7,” he said, “and I got off the plane, and I said to Israel ‘We have your back.’ We feel your pain.”
New York Congressman Nick LaLota, who represents the state’s first congressional district said a ceasefire should not be considered.
“A ceasefire would only give our common enemies more time to regroup, to reattack,” he said. “No American, no other friend of Israel throughout the world, should promote the notion of a ceasefire. We must eradicate the terrorists right away.”
Todd Richman, the UJA’s co-chair of Long Island Global Jewish Affairs, encouraged the crowd to not only donate to the UJA’s Israel emergency funds, but to lobby extensively.
“Go to House.gov, call the U.S. Capitol switchboard — just Google it — and make your voices heard on Capitol Hill,” he said. “For all of you that have children or grandchildren on college campuses, make sure they do the same thing. Because most of the representatives on those college campuses are the ones that are getting these calls, and they listen. Members of Congress listen to their constituents.”
Rabbi Ya’akov Trump of Young Israel of Lawrence Cedarhurst said he just returned from Israel.
“To me, the most painful experience in the last week was visiting the Tel Aviv center for Bring Them Back Now, for the hostages,” he said. “When you meet a family of somebody who has somebody in Gaza right now, the pain is so tangible, you can almost feel it in the room.”
The support of those at the rally for the hostages was abundantly clear. Each speaker on stage stood at a podium, with over 200 chairs behind them — each featuring the face of someone held hostage, alongside a Teddy Bear.
“It is so inspiring to see the overwhelming generosity of so many people supporting UJA’s critical work in Israel, over $130 million to date,” Barnett said. “And it’s so inspiring to see how our community continues to show up like we are today in support of the hostages, because we refuse to be silent.
“I am a mother and have children the same ages as our soldiers, and many of our hostages,” she added. “I go to sleep every night praying for our soldiers and hostages and wake up every morning praying for them. We must not stop until every hostage is free. Bring them home.”