Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi of Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom lived in Israel for many years, having made aliyah early into her adulthood. Living in Israel, she and her family lived through many conflicts.
“Like many of you who have been there during such times, I learned to hear the difference between the sound of a missile hitting nearby and the sound of a missile being intercepted by the Iron Dome,” she said.
At a community gathering and prayer service held at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, she told the story of an IDF soldier she knew who had gone to school with her daughter. He was shot and killed in Hamas’s recent invasion of Israel. While his family was holding a funeral for him, a round of missiles hit the nearby area, and the soldier’s father encouraged the mourners to call their loved ones to let them know they were okay.
“Our friends and colleagues are busy burying the dead, carrying the wounded, trying to help traumatized children and people of all ages to feel okay again,” Beit-Halachmi said.
Hundreds of Baltimore residents, both Jewish and non-Jewish, gathered to show their solidarity with Israel and pray for peace in the wake of devastating attacks on the country. Organized in the short time following Israel’s declaration of war on Hamas, Baltimore Community Gathering in Solidarity with Israel was held on Tuesday, October 10 and saw members of different congregations across Baltimore joining together to show their support.
“We have come together from synagogues across the denominations to make a powerful statement: that there is more that unites us than divides us, and that we, all of us, stand with Israel,” said Rabbi Chai Posner of Beth Tfiloh Congregation in his opening remarks. The service saw clergy from other congregations, such as Beth Israel, Chizuk Amuno, Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom and Bolton Street Synagogue, among others, leading attendees in song for Israel and praying for peace.
Many of the event’s attendees have family or friends with Israel, with some even coming from the country. For those with connections in the country, these are difficult and worrying times as they pray for the safety of their loved ones amidst the attacks.
Harriette Wienner, who once served as the chair of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, said that the situation in Israel has been especially trying for Baltimore’s Israeli sister city. Normally, it would be celebrating its 20th year of operation.
“Watching what has been going on has been completely horrifying,” Wienner said in an interview with the Jewish Times at the event. “It’s like watching our family running for their lives … we feel helpless as to what we can do for them aside from gathering, praying and showing our support.”
According to JTA, as of October 11, the death toll in Israel has reached over 1,200. So many have died that the IDF’s victim identification system is overwhelmed, and many are unsure of the status of their loved ones. Also uncertain is the status of the 100 hostages Hamas took in the initial attacks.
The service’s sole guest speaker, Israeli Minister of Economic Affairs Noach Hacker, used a similar American tragedy to put the current state of Israel into perspective.
“To understand the magnitude of this tragedy, we often hear comparisons to other terrorist attacks like 9/11,” he explained. “Proportionally, the loss of more than 1,000 Israelis would be akin to that of 40,000 Americans.”
Even in such a dark situation, though, there is still hope. The tragedy has inspired people to come together in support of Israel and fund humanitarian aid to the country to support victims of the attacks. During the evening of the service, The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s Israel emergency fund reached over $1 million in donations thanks to several very generous donors.
“We’re having a tremendous response that’s been very amazing and generous,” said P.J. Pearlstone, who sits on The Associated’s board of directors and currently acts as its campaign chair, in an interview with the Jewish Times. “It’s a tremendous honor, but Israel is in need of our assistance, so we need to step up.”
And there are people in Israel showing great bravery in the face of danger, Hacker added.
“Amidst all this horror, stories of heroism are beginning to emerge,” he said. “We will continue to fight until victory is achieved, because there is no other choice.”