The people of Israel live


Following Hamas’s attack on the nation of Israel, I attended several vigils, including one at the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center in Greenvale. It was a very poignant event with a lot of emotion. Among the attendees were Israel Nitzan, the former deputy consul general and acting consul general of Israel in New York, and several Israeli students I had met previously, who are part of the Shinshinim exchange program.
At the event, we heard the phrase “Am Yisrael Chai.” These Hebrew words translate to “The people of Israel live.” I had assumed that this refrain, a tribute to the resiliency of the Jewish people, had first been used centuries ago. I was wrong. The words were first uttered by survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as they were freed by British troops in April 1945.
As we mourn Israel’s dead, it is bitterly ironic to reflect on the fact that the number of Jews killed in the Oct. 7 attacks was the most on any single day since the Holocaust.
The despicable sneak attack against the Israeli people is a war crime. The taking of hostages; the wholesale murder of civilians; the use of torture; the beating, mutilation and killing of captured soldiers; and the parading of their bodies, and the bodies of dead civilians, through the streets of Gaza were a cruel, barbaric and brutal throwback to primitive times.
And as we stand in solidarity with the Jewish state, let us confront the profound question of whether a free, liberal and democratic nation can defeat a culture founded on tyranny. Nor is it Israel alone that is at risk. America, plagued by rising anti-Jewish hatred and rising hatred for “the other,” is in danger as well. It is the very future of democracy itself that is at stake.

The answer to that question is clear: We will win, the good people will win, as long as we stand together, united.
I do want to share my fear that in the days to come, forces aligned with Hamas, Russia and Iran will do their best to turn public opinion against Israel. This is the same tactic now being used by proponents of tyranny and oppression to undermine American support for Ukraine.
You and I will not let that happen. Not on our watch.
As fate would have it, the interests of the Jewish people and the interests of American democracy have become so interrelated and intertwined that, as meaningful as it is for us in the face of persecution to pronounce, “Am Yisrael Chai,” the time has now come for us all to say as well, “Am America Chai.”
We must resolve to continue to fight for democracy.
It is crucially important that the Israeli people have our support, and I encourage members of our local communities to give what they can by simply Googling "donations to Israel."

Charles Lavine represents the 13th Assembly District, and chairs the Judiciary Committee.