Several hundred Jewish Atlantans sent Israel a message of solidarity from Congregation Beth Tefillah on Thursday night, Oct. 15.
“We have gathered here to say, ‘Our brothers and sisters, you are not alone. When you are hurting, we are hurting,’ ” said Young Israel of Toco Hills Rabbi Adam Starr, one of 11 rabbis to address the community prayer vigil organized by Chabad Israeli Center Rabbi Mendy Gurary.
“We will always stand with Israel,” Rabbi Gurary said.
The vigil was a response to Palestinian violence that flared up just before Rosh Hashanah and exploded into a series of random knifings, shootings and other attacks that killed eight Israeli
civilians in the two weeks preceding the event.
Rabbi Gurary said his brother in Israel spends an hour each morning and an hour each afternoon escorting his seven children to and from school because they’re scared to ride a bus. He added that men and women as well as children are afraid to walk in public places.
“The world is quiet. We don’t hear anyone,” said Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer, Israel’s consul general to the Southeast. She said her 87-year-old mother in Israel asks her whether the rest of the world knows what is happening.
“We are facing a struggle against bloodthirsty Islamic terrorism,” Shorer said, and no one is safe. She said it’s terrible to sit by the phone and fear a call about another attack every five minutes, but “we will not be bound by these evil forces.”
Rabbi Don Seeman of the New Toco Shul, who is Israeli, said one of the beautiful things about Jerusalem is the opportunity to walk everywhere, and that has been lost while people are afraid to leave their homes.
“We will find a way to get control of the streets, and Israelis will find a way to live their lives,” Rabbi Seeman said, because that’s why Israel exists: to give Jews a place to lead normal lives.
“Israel is not only your homeland. It’s also your home,” he told the crowd.
Rabbi Yossi New, the gathering’s host rabbi, looked to the Torah for guidance on how Jews should respond to Israel’s troubles. He noted that G-d destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah despite Abraham’s pleas, but He listened to Moses and spared the Jewish people after they worshipped the Golden Calf in the Sinai.
The difference, Rabbi New said, was that Abraham showed sympathy for Sodom and Gomorrah, but Moses felt empathy for his people and was willing to share their fate. Likewise, G-d may hear our prayers now if Atlanta’s Jews recognize that “their plight is our plight; their destiny is our destiny.”
Shorer said she was proud to look over the diverse crowd gathered to pray for Israel. “American Jews are also saying no to terrorism in Israel.”
In addition to Beth Tefillah and the Chabad Israeli Center and their parent, Chabad of Georgia, organizations participating in the gathering included Chabad of Cobb, Young Israel of Toco Hills, Congregation Or Hadash, Temple Emanu-El, The Temple, Temple Sinai, the New Toco Shul, Congregation Beth Shalom, Congregation B’nai Torah, Atlanta Jewish Academy, the Weber School and the Marcus Jewish Community Center.
“Sadly, we’ve all been here before,” Beth Shalom Rabbi Mark Zimmerman said of gatherings to pray for Israel in times of crisis.
“We will not stop singing as we have sung tonight,” he said. “We will wear our Judaism proudly, our love of Israel proudly.”
“We pray for a time of peace,” Rabbi Starr said.
Palestinians have cited fears of changes to the Temple Mount as the cause for the outbreak of anger and violence, but Shorer repeated what the Israeli government has said over and over again: There are no plans to change the status quo, which allows access to all and freedom of worship to Muslims.
“The terrorists are drawn by one thing: their hatred of Jews,” Rabbi Zimmerman said.
Shorer criticized the lies and incitement by Palestinian political and religious leaders and the use of social media to spread those messages and instruct young Palestinians on how to kill Israelis.
“Friends, we demand a real peace,” Shorer said. “Israel demands a real peace.”
Photos by Michael Jacobs