Pittsburghers in Israel and Israelis in Pittsburgh share fears, perspectives
Israel at warPittsburgh and Israel

Pittsburghers in Israel and Israelis in Pittsburgh share fears, perspectives

Thousands of miles from home, responses offered

Pittsburgh community members demonstrate support for Israel during an Oct. 8, 2023 gathering at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. Photo by Adam Reinherz
Pittsburgh community members demonstrate support for Israel during an Oct. 8, 2023 gathering at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Leora Goldberg, 18, spent four hours in a bomb shelter during Simchat Torah.

“It was on and off, whenever we heard the sirens,” she said, speaking by phone from her dormitory in Jerusalem.

As of press time, Hamas had fired more than 4,000 rockets at the Jewish state.

Goldberg described the situation as “very stressful,” and noted the deluge of war-related stories flooding her social media accounts.

“It feels scarier when all the information is coming at once,” she said.

The Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh graduate arrived in Israel last month for a year of study at Midreshet Tehillah, a seminary in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood.

Twenty miles west, fellow Hillel Academy graduate Kovi Biton, 18, said, “Nowhere is safe.”

Speaking by phone from Yeshivat Reishet in Bet Shemesh, Biton described the rockets and told the Chronicle, “You can see flashes at night. You feel like you are in war.”

More than 800 Israelis were killed, 2,500 injured and 100 taken hostage since Hamas attacked Israel by land, sea and air on Oct. 7.

Biton said his school issued a “lockdown,” but even isolating within a bolstered gymnasium is frightening.

“You can hear the ground rumbling, and you don’t know if it’s from bombs dropping or planes flying overhead,” he said.

As of press time, it was reported that at least nine U.S. citizens were among those killed, and dozens of U.S. citizens are being held hostage in Gaza.

Yisrael Klitsner, 36, said he’s “always been on the cusp between America and Israel.”

Born to American parents, Klitsner was in an elite Israeli combat unit for three years before serving in the reserves for “many more years.”

Klitsner moved to Pittsburgh from the Jewish state in 2022.

His connection to the war “is just like every other Israeli’s: firsthand, secondhand and thirdhand.”

He described someone he served with who “died fighting Hamas terrorists inside of Israel,” as well as friends whose loved ones attended the nature party near Kibbutz Re’im and are now missing.

The all-night outdoor music festival was interrupted Saturday morning when Hamas launched rockets and then fired gunshots at hundreds of fleeing partygoers, The Times of Israel reported.

Video footage shows festival attendees scrambling for safety, while others were abducted by Hamas.

Zaka, a volunteer group whose members retrieve remains of the deceased following terror attacks and other disasters, collected more than 260 bodies from the site of the southern music festival, according to The Associated Press.

U.S. antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt tweeted that the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks were “the most lethal assault against Jews since the Holocaust.”

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Laurie Wasser-Klitsner told the Chronicle. “I don’t think that there’s a family in Israel who hasn’t been touched by this.”

Wasser-Klitsner, 36, moved to Pittsburgh last year to complete a fellowship at UPMC.

“If you don’t have someone in your family who was immediately affected, then you know a family that was. And most of us have siblings fighting in this war now who were called up for reserve duty,” she said.

Israel has drafted 300,000 reservists since Saturday. It’s the largest call-up in the country’s 75- year history, Reuters reported.

Naama Perel-Tzadok listed family members who’ve been summoned.

“Almost everyone we know,” she said.

Perel-Tzadok, 39, left Israel last year to complete a doctorate in music composition at the University of Pittsburgh.

Being so far from Israel right now is extremely challenging, she said.

“We feel very bad. We feel sad. We are very worried. We are devastated, actually. We can’t eat. We can’t sleep. Our bodies are here, but our hearts are in Israel and we feel very helpless. We have nothing to do from here — even just to donate blood — we feel very distant,” she said.

Pittsburghers, she said, can help.

“It’s really important to stand with Israel, to strengthen the soldiers and strengthen the people in Israel,” she said. “This is so important to our morale and to our mental health, knowing that people are seeing us, and hearing our voice, and holding us and supporting us.”

Klitsner also stressed the importance of showing solidarity with Israel.

“This is the lowest moment that Israel has ever experienced, and standing with them in any way is certainly a good thing to do,” he said.

“Pittsburgh is a community who has come across hatred firsthand, in its worst form,” he continued. “And the hatred that has been assigned to Israelis is something that just needs to be recognized and called out. Israel should be empathized with in the deepest way, and I know that Pittsburghers know how to do that because I’ve already witnessed it.”

Messages, comments and calls have signaled support since Oct. 7, but Klitsner and Perel-Tzadok both worry about transient sentiments.

“When the IDF starts its operation, everything is going to change, and the whole world is going to be against us,” Perel-Tzadok said.

“I think we’re about to see Israel do things and go on the offensive in ways that it hasn’t in the past,” Klitsner said. “No matter what your political leaning is — no matter what your ideological or religious or otherwise affiliation is — this moment, this heart-wrenching moment that we’re living and breathing today, should be with you.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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