Local and state politicians, rabbis and Jewish community leaders were among more than 500 people at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s Levinson Hall rallying in support of Israel. An additional 100 people joined online.
The Sunday, Oct. 8 event was organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Both the 10.27 Healing Partnership and StandWithUs, a pro-Israel education and advocacy organization, had representatives present.
The rally was a response to the terrorist attack on Israel launched from Gaza by Hamas, which began on the previous morning — nearly 50 years to the day from the start of the Yom Kippur War — as the country was celebrating Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.
The terrorist group infiltrated 22 Israeli towns, launching thousands of rockets and attacking by land — through seven breaches in the security wall separating Gaza from Israel — by sea and by air, using gliders.
As of press time, more than 800 Israelis and nine Americans were murdered by the terrorists, including more than 250 celebrating at a music festival. More than 2,500 Israelis were wounded and more than 100 people were taken captive and transported to Gaza, including both military members and civilians.
Tree of Life Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers and Temple Sinai Cantor David Reinwald opened the rally with a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” followed by remarks from Federation Board Chair Jan Levinson, who said the community had come together not only to share Israel’s grief, but also its resilience.
Joining Levinson to speak during the 30-minute program were Federation President and CEO Jeff Finkelstein; Dr. Deborah Gilboa; Federation’s Gefsky Community Scholar Rabbi Danny Schiff; Shaare Torah Rabbi Yitzi Genack; JCC Board Chair Scott Seewald; and JCC President and CEO Jason Kunzman. The mayors of Karmiel and Misgav, Federation’s Partnership2Gether region, spoke via video.
Finkelstein acknowledged the many politicians in the room before noting that “this is the worst loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust in a single day.”
He spoke of the work that the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Agency for Israel have done since the attack, including JFNA’s 2023 Israel Emergency Fund and JAI moving 1,000 people from the south of Israel in one day.
Federation’s annual campaign, Finkelstein said, will need to raise “significant dollars for specific needs in Israel.”
One of the evening’s most poignant moments occurred when Gilboa spoke about her son who is serving in the Israel Defense Forces. She asked those in attendance to raise their hand if they knew someone about to be in uniform in defense of Israel. Hundreds of raised hands filled the hall.
Schiff spoke about the need for solidarity.
“We are a people united in sorrow, united in anxiety for all those taken captive and united in our determination that the Jewish people will live in its homeland in peace with God’s help, for decades and centuries to come,” he said. “Tonight, there are no Reform Jews or Conservative Jews or left-wing Jews or right-wing Jews. There is just am Yisroel, one heart beating together.”
Genack then recited a prayer for the Jewish hostages.
Kunzman and Sewald spoke of the JCC’s commitment to support Israel, its leadership and people.
The Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Clergy Association closed the program with a rendition of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem.
Numerous politicians gathered with the hundreds of community members, crying and hugging in support of one another, many with family members and loved ones in Israel.
Pittsburgh City Councilmember Barb Warwick, whose district includes Squirrel Hill, called the terrorist attack “a huge tragedy for the community.”
Allegheny County Executive candidate Joe Rockey said it was important for people to stand together in light of Hamas’ terrorist attack.
“When one part of our community is challenged, everyone is challenged,” he said. “What’s going on in Israel is completely wrong and needs the support of all of Pittsburgh.”
State Sen. Devlin Robinson, serving District 37 which includes Allegheny County, was adamant in his belief that “no moment in the past has led to anybody taking up arms and deciding to murder civilians and kidnap elderly women and babies. We should call this a terrorist attack and call out the rogue, terrorist nation funding it.”
He attended the rally, he said, to show his solidarity with the Jewish people and Israel.
State Rep. Dan Frankel said that the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition was working on a resolution in support of Israel.
“This is terrorism on a scale we have never seen,” he said. “It exceeds what happened on 9/11, and it needs to be called out by all of us and it needs to be unequivocal.”
Frankel’s 23rd District includes the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Squirrel Hill and Greenfield.
U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, who recently returned from a trip to Israel, also strongly condemned the terrorist actions of Hamas and said he stood in solidarity with the Jewish state and the Jewish community in Pittsburgh.
“I’m a member of the Armed Services Committee,” he said. “I take the responsibility seriously. I will be back in Washington this week and I’m sure we’re going to be digging into how we got to this point, where the intelligence failures were and what our security assistance looks like going forward. That commitment is steadfast.”
Bhavini Patel, who last week announced her candidacy to challenge U.S. Rep. Summer Lee in the Democratic primary, said it was important in moments like this to lead with love and kindness.
“When your community is hurting, you show up for your community and you extend that love in a deep and passionate way so that your neighbors know that you stand in solidarity with them,” she said.
Summer Lee did not attend the rally.
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, former Mayor Bill Peduto and Steve Irwin, chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s Cleveland Region, which includes Pittsburgh, were in attendance, as well.
StandWithUs Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Julie Paris thanked Federation for putting together the rally so quickly and said the organization was glad to participate.
“Pittsburgh stands strongly with Israel, now and forever,” Paris said. “At StandWithUs, we stand unequivocally with the people of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces, as they fight back against this murderous terrorist onslaught.”
StandWithUs, she said is working to educate people about the attack and to fight misinformation.
Paris said people can show support for Israel by sharing content from StandWithUs and other reputable sources; commenting positively on social media about the Jewish state; reporting hateful social media comments and posts; and attending pro-Israel rallies, vigils and events.
Federations across the country, Finkelstein said, are raising funds for needs in Israel that haven’t been fully identified yet.
“I don’t know what the future will bring, but we know the needs are going to be enormous,” he said.
Schiff voiced the needs of the community by citing the familiar refrain pronounced after reading a book in the Torah:
“Chazak — may it be strong; chazak — may we be strong; v’nitchazek — may we strengthen each other in the difficult days that lie ahead.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.