‘Profound spiritual darkness’ in Israel

Long Island's North Shore comes out in support of the State of Israel


The lyrics of “Hatikvah,” once sung by Jews who defied their tormentors during the Holocaust and now Israel’s national anthem, echoed through the halls of Congregation Tiferith Israel, in Glen Cove, last Sunday night, at a gathering and fundraising event that welcomed members of the North Shore community and North Country Reform Temple. The song of hope is being sung worldwide in support of Israelis and Jews in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas.

“Tonight we stand as one with the people of Israel, who have lost loved ones, those who await word about those taken as hostages, from babies to elderly Holocaust survivors,” Rabbi Irwin Huberman, of Congregation Tiferith Israel said. “We pray for these hostages held not only in physical prison, but also during profound spiritual darkness that we can only imagine. May this be the last cloud of darkness before the light of permanent peace.”

Speaking about the war crimes against Israel, Assemblyman Charles Lavine addressed rising antisemitism in the United States during the gathering. He said he feared an anti-Israel campaign by extremist forces aligned with Hamas, such as Russia, Iran, and those with authoritarian leanings in America. The only way to protect democracy in future generations, Lavine said, is to “remain united, together and strong.”

Rabbi Michael Churgel, of North Country Reform Temple, said supporters could offer comfort to Israelis by seeking accurate updates on the ongoing crisis via organizations like the World Union for Progressive Judaism and The United Synagogue. At the gathering, he warned cable news viewers to “give fair- and open-minded attention to major news networks from both sides of the aisle,” while combating misinformation and disinformation. He stressed that supporters should also carefully research the charities to which they contribute to ensure that donations go to the intended cause.

Churgel’s final advice to the community, he said, was the most crucial. “Contact your Israeli family and friends and let them know that you’re thinking about them,” he said. “Every person I spoke with, or with whom I exchanged messages this past week in Israel, expressed gratitude for my care and concern. People need people.”

Glen Cove residents like Stephanie Cretaro, a member of Congregation Tiferith Israel, are doing just that. Days after the attacks, she located a paternal cousin living in Israel through 23andMe, an ancestry website. She said she worried that a potential escalation of the war could result in American troops being sent overseas.

“Coming together with other Jewish people helps a lot, because we’re all feeling the same way,” Cretaro said. “I feel like this is going to escalate, and we’re going to have problems from other countries surrounding Israel.”

Glen Cove Mayor Pamela Panzenbeck said she was in Virginia, visiting her newborn grandchild, during the attacks. She expressed a sense of guilt and heartbreak while watching news of families suffering through the massacre.

“You never need to come here and feel unsafe or threatened or be afraid, because we are here for you,” Panzenbeck told the congregation. “You have our full support. This is our city, and you’re a major part of our community, and we love and pray for you. We hope this all ends very shortly.”

The evening’s keynote speaker, Israel Nitzan, a former Israel consul general in New York, spoke of the political climate in the Middle East. The Jewish people, he said, would never be the same after the attacks, and he added that Hamas was no different than ISIS, the Islamist terrorist organization.

“This war is existential, and this is not hyperbole, this is not an exaggeration,” Nitzan said. “This war is first and foremost about the future of the state of Israel and the future of Zionism. This war is about the promise of Zionism.”

Nitzan stated that the previous week’s events in Israel would set a precedent for whether Israelis can continue to live peacefully in the region, saying that if Israel did not defend itself, it would be vulnerable to future attacks.

“If we do not convey this message to our enemies today in a decisive victory against Hamas, they will continue to hurt us mercilessly,” Nitzan said. “What we’re witnessing today is only the beginning.”

Huberman concluded the evening, where $5,500 was raised, by addressing the loneliness and despair in the Jewish community, saying it was easy to feel a sense of darkness.

“As long as we’re gathered together, there is light,” Huberman said. “This is still good in the world, and we will prevail. It will be long and it will be difficult, but you’re not alone in your fears and your pain and your suffering. As long as we are together, we can raise each other and create light.”

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