In response to the Saturday attack against Israel by the Hamas militant group, the Baltimore Jewish community immediately sprung into action to help Israel.
“Our community has such deep relationships with Israel. … It’s part of who we are as a Jewish community in Baltimore,” said Howard Libit, executive director of Baltimore Jewish Council. “We all know people in Israel who have been affected in some way. We’re all horrified to see what’s happening there right now.”
More than 900 people were killed, thousands wounded and more than 100 taken hostage in Israel in the initial surprise attack, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The attacks came in the midst of Simchat Torah, often considered one of the most joyous Jewish holidays marking the conclusion and subsequent beginning of the Torah’s annual cycle.
Many Israeli Jews went from dancing with the Torah to fleeing their homes in a matter of hours.
The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore started an emergency fund to provide humanitarian aid and trauma relief to Israeli people in need. The fund can be found at payments.associated.org/israelattacked.
“The Jewish principle of Pikuach Nefesh (saving one’s life) takes precedence during times like this,” said Marc Terrill, president of The Associated, in an email to the community about the fund. “The lives of innocent civilians — women, men, elderly, children, disabled and the infirmed — are now under attack. Our collective response at this critical time will save lives.”
Members of Baltimore’s Jewish community also came together at gatherings to process the situation and support each other. Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School held an impromptu gathering of over 80 students and faculty members who davened and prayed for Israel, and Columbia Jewish Congregation quickly reworked their Simchat Torah celebration into an event on how the horrors of the war and the joy of the holiday can coexist. The Vaad HaRabbonim declared a Kinus Tefila (prayer gathering) at Congregation Shomrei Emunah on Oct. 9. And on Oct. 10, the community will gather at Beth Tfiloh Congregation for a solidarity event sponsored by The Associated, the Baltimore Board of Rabbis and the local synagogue community.
The JCC of Greater Baltimore has also started a campaign encouraging people to wear blue-and-white ribbons or decorate their mailboxes with them in solidarity.
Many Baltimore community leaders and organizations, such as The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore and Baltimore Zionist District, also issued statements condemning the attacks on Israel and expressing their support for the country.
“This horrifying event, coupled with the ongoing barrage of rockets and missiles—unfortunately, a recurring nightmare for Israel—has brought our attention to a new level of urgency,” said Baltimore Zionist District Executive Director Caren Leven and President Heather Michaelson in a statement.
Local rabbis also chimed in.
“There is little we can say in the face of such a tragedy. Words of condemnation, even those of solidarity, seem achingly hollow in the face of such a despicable and senseless act of aggression. And a sea of ink would be insufficient to capture the value of even a single life lost,” said Rabbi Rachel Safman of Beth Israel Congregation in an emailed message to congregation members.
Members of the local government have also condemned the attacks in public statements, including Gov. Wes Moore, Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Sen. Ben Cardin, as well as several congressmen.
“I condemn the brazen and ongoing terrorist attack that has killed innocent Israeli citizens across southern Israel today. I mourn those lost and my heart goes out to their families. May their memory be for a blessing,” said Cardin, who is Jewish and a member of Beth Tfiloh, in a statement. “Just as the United States stood by Israel after it was attacked exactly 50 years ago on Yom Kippur, today we stand by Israel in this time of crisis.”
Now is an especially difficult time for the Israeli shlichim and shinshinim in Baltimore, who left Israel a few months ago to spend a year working and volunteering abroad. But the amount of support they have been shown has been heartening, said Maian Rahvalschi, senior shlicha at The Associated.
“Being far from my family, my friends and my home is always a bit of a struggle, but on days like these, it’s doubled and tripled,” Rahvalschi said. “And though one would think I’d feel alone and out of place, the amount of love and care I’ve received from the people in this community and the friends I’ve made in my year here in Baltimore is something I cherish during this chapter and will cherish forever.”