Jewish teenagers, religious leaders and elected officials came together at a rally in Merrick last week, in solidarity and support of Israel, amid its ongoing war against Hamas. Jeffrey Pravato, the Town of Oyster Bay’s receiver of taxes, was one of the speakers, emphasizing the importance of standing together as Jews and backing Israel.
Pravato, who is Jewish, said that Nassau County officials would continue to stand with the Israel Defense Forces. He also condemned the professors in American higher education, whom he asserted were “indoctrinating our children in these colleges” to oppose Israel, and called for the removal of any elected officials in Congress who failed to support the Jewish state.
“There’s nobody that has a mask on, because you know why? We’re all proud Jews,” Pravato said. “All of our officials back here — Nassau County, New York state, Town of Oyster Bay, Town of Hempstead — we all stand in lockstep in demanding the return of the hostages, in support of Israel and support of the troops.”
Pravato also claimed that if Israel did not stop Hamas now, “they’ll be here,” and stressed that the only way to prevent that was to “support our number one ally in the Middle East.”
In the weeks following the Oct. 7 attack in which Hamas entered Israel and killed an estimated 1,200 people, and took hundreds captive, Jews have been subjected to a steady increase in antisemitism around the world.
Jewish students said they have witnessed acts of hate in schools and across their communities. Just a few weeks ago, swastikas were found at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center in Glen Cove — the latest in a countless list of incidents on Long Island.
Jodi Turk-Goldberg and Stephanie Arnell, in collaboration with the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, organized the Nov. 22 rally. Rabbis, leaders from the Jewish community and elected officials joined the students near the Merrick Long Island Rail Road station.
“The reason why you’re gathered right here today is because many of us feel surrounded by the darkness in our schools, our colleges and on the streets,” Rabbi Shimon Kramer, director of the Chabad Center, said. “Your mission is to light the candle for truth, and for the Jewish people.”
The student speakers at the rally included Hailey Arnell, of Wellington C. Mepham High School; Madison Lange, of John F. Kennedy High School; Liam Schorr, a student at Columbia University; and Matthew Pfeffer, a student at Brandeis University.
Arnell, founder of the Jewish Student Union chapter at Mepham, spoke about how it feels to be a Jewish teenager amid the Israel-Hamas war.
“Jewish teens in the United States are thousands of miles away from Israel, yet we have found ourselves bombarded with antisemitic messages shared on social media platforms,” she said. “As teens, we should be focused on grades, SATs and whether our school’s sports team will win our next games. Jewish teens are at times feeling anxious, isolated and helpless.”
Weeks earlier, Arnell said, on the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht — an organized attack on the Jewish people and their businesses by the Nazi Party in Germany in 1938 — she had an opportunity to hear Holocaust survivor Sami Steigman speak.
“He said only we have the power to choose how we respond to our circumstances,” Arnell recounted. “In closing, I want to remind you of the words of Sami: ‘Don’t feed into the hate and educate.’”
Schorr said he was enrolled in a dual-degree program at Columbia, alongside the Jewish Theological Seminary.
“I’m lucky to have the privilege to study the history of the Jewish people and learn Hebrew at one of the best institutions in the world for Jewish studies,” he said. “However, it deeply pains me to witness the significant increase in prejudice and hate against the Jewish community.”
Schorr mentioned several antisemitic incidents that have occurred on Columbia’s campus since Oct. 7, as well as controversial statements by faculty and club leaders, and said that many Jewish students believe the university has responded inadequately.
“Columbia has a motto which translates to, ‘In thy light, we shall see light,’” Schorr said. “However, the recent events show a stark contrast between the university’s motto and the current reality on our campus. These incidents not only threaten the well-being and sense of security of Jewish students, but also challenge the fundamental values of the ideas that the Columbia motto embodies.”
Kramer said it is a large responsibility of the Jewish people to be the light in dark times, but it is one they must take on.
“We are given a match,” he said. “We are given a candle to light up our surroundings. We must not duck in fear. We must speak the truth and light up our surroundings. The world will respect the Jews and respect their history, their heritage and their faith.”
Additional reporting by Will Sheeline