Julie Paris joined about 200 Jewish Pittsburghers to show her support for Israel at a May 12 gathering outside Hillel Academy in Squirrel Hill because “when one Jew is under attack, we’re all under attack,” she said.
“Millions of Israelis have spent the last 48 hours running into bomb shelters as Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists shoot missiles indiscriminately throughout the country,” Paris told the Chronicle. “These missiles don’t discriminate. Jewish, Muslim, Bedouin, Christian, they don’t care. They want to kill as many people as possible.”
The May 12 event, “A Community Gathering to say Tehilim,” was organized by the Vaad Harabonim of Greater Pittsburgh and included the recitation of Psalms and prayers for the safety and security of Israel and its citizens during Operation Guardian of the Walls.
“This is a day we are not just coming together because we’re under attack, but because we have a shared vision, a sense of being a nation and purpose,” said Poale Zedeck Rabbi Daniel Yolkut. “We come together with a dream — a dream of peace, a dream of security, a dream of redemption and a dream of shared values and purpose throughout the Jewish people.”
The gathering coincided with the 3,333th anniversary of the date the Torah was given to the Jewish people, noted Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, head shaliach of Western Pennsylvania and rabbi of the Lubavitch Center of Pittsburgh. He and Yolkut were joined in the recitation of psalms by Young Israel of Pittsburgh’s Rabbi Shimon Silver, Rabbi Levi Langer, dean of the Kollel Jewish Learning Center, and Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum, CEO of Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh and rabbi of Congregation Kesser Torah. Rosenblum closed the event by reciting kaddish.
Moshe Luzer, 20, home from Temple University, came out to show his support for Israel because “there’s some crazy stuff going on and we just want to make sure they know that we’ve got their back,” he said.
His friend, Nathan Cohen, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, attended the event, he said, because “every Jew’s prayers matter.”
South Hills resident Charlene Tissenbaum also wanted to show her support for Israel and for her friends there who are in bomb shelters and are fearing for their safety, she said.
“We all know Hamas is a terrorist organization, and they’re sending a lot of terror to Israel,” she said. “We have to educate as many people as possible — especially the younger generation — of the history and explain how complicated the situation really is to understand all the factors.”
Regent Square resident Abby Schachter, a citizen of both the U.S. and Israel, said she was “grateful” to have stood side by side with Jews from across the denominational spectrum on May 12 to “pray to God for continued strength and success in defense of Israel and the well-being of every Israeli soul and citizen.”
At the same time, Schachter said that the U.S. bears some responsibility for the violence.
“I understand as clearly as the Hamas terrorists how the policies pursued by the current administration — cozening and winking at Iran, the major state-supporter of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as reopening the flow of millions of dollars in American taxpayer money to the Palestinians — has helped lay the table for this current outbreak of murderous violence,” she said. “When President [Joe] Biden finally got around to making a statement about the more than 1,500 rockets that have been fired all over Israel, his words were nothing but weak tea. Still worse, President Biden has done exactly nothing to curb or control the members of his own party who sit in Congress, on Twitter, and on every major news outlet denouncing, criticizing and attacking Israel.”
Stuart Pavilack, executive director of the Zionist Organization of America: Pittsburgh, said he was “sick with worry and fear over the senseless bombing of Israel by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” and that he stands with “Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and Defense Minister [Benny] Gantz when they stated Israel is not preparing for a ceasefire. Israel must take as long as necessary and take out as much of the terrorist infrastructure as possible to protect its people.”
Stacie Stufflebeam, the mother of four sons who have served as lone soldiers in the IDF, acknowledged while “Israel isn’t perfect…she is our homeland, the only one we’ve got, and right now she needs the protection provided by the IDF and the support of all Jews around the world.
“As a mom of lone soldiers, I know that this is what my kids, and all soldiers, train for,” she continued. “And while we can never really prepare ourselves for the reality of them putting that training into action, we know that when our soldiers, our kids, are called to action, they will defend our homeland. So we must defend her, too.”
The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, in a prepared statement, said they “unequivocally stand in solidarity with Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorists, as any sovereign nation would.
“The violence is deeply personal for many members of our community who have friends, family, and loved ones living in Israel and fearing for their lives, including in our Partnership2Gether region of Karmiel and Misgav,” the statement continued. “These attacks are not in the pursuit of a better future for Palestinians; these indiscriminate attacks on civilians serve to traumatize, perpetuate terror, and advance the political agenda of Hamas, and innocent Israelis and Palestinians pay the price. Additionally, the recent violent attacks against Jews in some Arab Israeli communities and against Arab Israelis by fringe Jewish extremists, threaten the great work that has been accomplished in the past decades towards shared society. It is more crucial than ever to work towards an outcome that will ensure an end to the violence, an assurance of Israel’s security, and a path towards Palestinian self-determination.”
J Street, in a prepared statement said its members “unequivocally condemn indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas and other militant groups and support Israel’s need to defend its citizens. We have also repeatedly seen that there is no ultimate military solution possible to this crisis, and that these escalations and intensive Israeli strikes cause devastation for the people of Gaza without ending the long-term threat of more rocket attacks.
“We continue to urge the Biden administration to take urgent, proactive and decisive steps to help de-escalate this crisis and to secure an urgent ceasefire,” J Street’s statement continued. “The U.S. government can and must be heavily involved in bringing a halt to this violence, and in helping to address its persistent root causes, including the ongoing occupation and the eviction and dispossession of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
Because it was organized quickly, Rosenfeld was unsure how many people would attend the May 12 event, but said “it’s important during difficult times for us to get together and pray for our brothers and sisters in Israel. They need all the support they can get spiritually and to remind ourselves, let’s work on this, all of us together. Getting together as one, we’ll be able to walk away united from all our challenges.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com. Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.