NEWPORT – Quiet grief was palpable as over 100 people gathered at Touro Synagogue on Oct. 25 to stand “Together with Israel.”
“As Jews, we are angry and we are shattered,” said Sarah Perfido, event chair for the community program. “Our family – our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, parents, grandparents, cousins and friends – have been senselessly and mercilessly slaughtered.
“As Americans of all backgrounds and faiths, we are devastated as we all too easily recall the terror of 9/11 and how it shook the foundations of our nation. And simply as humans, we are disgusted, and we are heartbroken.
“We are not OK – but together, eventually, we will be.”
Newport Mayor Xaykham Khamsyvoravong warned that “the intent on October 7th was not to shift the state of the battlefield but to shift the paradigm of democracy’s effectiveness, to use terror to instill fear not of them [the terrorists] but rather of ourselves so ... we abandon our faith, our commitment to humanity. ... To strip us of our commitment to democracy and to starve us of the passion and love for one another when we need it most.”
On Oct. 7, Liz Niemiec was visiting Israel with her husband, Marc, and their young children.
“At 6:30 in the morning, my husband Marc and I were drinking coffee on the terrace of our Airbnb in Tel Aviv, when suddenly the air-raid sirens blew, and we felt several loud explosions that seemed like they were only blocks away. With each of these sounds, which were so foreign to us, all of the birds in the neighborhood took off in a vortex into the sky.
“And then, with the country facing unimaginable violence and a true threat to its existence, I started to appreciate it even more: The way Israelis were immediately prepared to do whatever was necessary with courage and optimism. I met Israelis who spoke with passion about coming together, despite differences, to support the nation they all love so deeply.
“You would probably think, based on the facts, that I would return from Israel and say, definitively, that I wish I had stayed home. But I don’t feel that way. I am so grateful that I was there. Even when on high alert, unsure whether it was safe to step outside, I had the sense that I was somehow accidentally fortunate to have traveled so far to be in this place and to bear witness to this moment.
“I can love Israel without loving every choice its government makes, just as I can love the United States without agreeing with all of its policies. I don’t know why I needed to be in Israel to realize this, but I did. What had previously felt complicated and uncomfortable now feels simple, and I can say with ease: I am mourning for Israel, I am fearful for Israel, I am hopeful for Israel, I love Israel.”
Prayers were recited and then Cantor Fred Sheff led the audience in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Oseh Shalom,” “Am Yisrael Chai” and “Hatikvah.”
Paul Tobak read Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ prayer to the hushed audience: “And may the Holy One, blessed be he, have compassion on those who are being held hostage ... may he break their bonds, deliver them from distress, and bring them swiftly home to their families’ embrace.”
The program was sponsored by the Aquidneck Island congregations Ahavath Israel, Havurah, Jeshuat Israel and Temple Shalom, and the Aquidneck Island Clergy Association. Program participants included Michelle Avenia, Deacon John Silvia, and Rabbis Stephen Belsky, Daniel Kripper and Loel Weiss.
AARON GINSBURG lives in Stoughton, Massachusetts, and blogs at jewishnewport.blogspot.com.