A community gathering, organized in the aftermath of Hamas attacks on Israel, took place Monday night at Temple Israel.

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — People everywhere were shaken by the surprise attack on Israel by Hamas over the weekend, in which more than 900 Israelis are said to have been killed and more than a hundred taken hostage.

On Monday night, more than 500 people attended a community gathering at Temple Israel to share what they were feeling or stand in solidarity with Israelis. The gathering, which drew Jews from several towns as well as the governor, a U.S. senator and local officials from area communities, came on the third day of the war.

“We bring so many emotions into this space this evening,” Rabbi Michael Friedman told the crowd, which was standing room only. “Anger. Fear. Vulnerability. Sadness. Helplessness. And most importantly, deep concern.”

Rabbi Michael Friedman.
Rabbi Michael Friedman

“And thus, it is so valuable and meaningful that we gather in a unified Jewish community on this evening with friends and allies,” Friedman said.

“We gather this evening to mourn. To pray. To find strength. To express our love and support to the state of Israel, and our brothers and sisters,” he said. “Most importantly, we do all of this together. How comforting and how powerful that is.”

Israel has declared war, and its military commanders have ordered a siege of the Gaza Strip. Authorities in Gaza said more than 600 people have died there.

“If you’re like me, you’re still reeling from all the news,” said Carin Savel of the Jewish Federation of Greater Fairfield County.

“And you have friends, and colleagues in Israel, and some of them are not with us anymore,” she said. “And if you’re like me, you have family in Israel who are in hiding still or have been called back into the army to serve.”

Ofek Moscovich, who served in the Israeli Defense Forces.
Ofek Moscovich, who served in the Israeli Defense Forces

Ofek Moscovich, who served in the Israeli Defense Forces, told the crowd that a couple of years ago he was stationed at the base that was overrun by Hamas in the surprise attack. He slept in the same beds, ate in the same dining hall, manned the same vehicles as those who were killed or taken hostage last week.

“I’m afraid, and shaking, as I read every list that is published, and I’m afraid that this time it’s going to hurt me again,” he said of the casualties.

“Their goal is to kill Jews,” he said of Hamas. “It didn’t bother them if they were soldiers or civilians, either women or men, they were children or old people.”

As the gathering recited a prayer for Israel, Moscovich appeared silenced by emotion. A woman lay a hand on his back.

Cantors Becky Mann, left, and Julia Cadrain.
Cantors Becky Mann, left, and Julia Cadrain

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he wished everyone could see what he saw from where he stood.

“What I see is America. This is what America looks like at its best. Different religions, different races, all of us …” pausing while the crowd applauded. “All of us coming together to say to the world, and to our fellow Americans, we stand with Israel.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal

He said that like many in the crowd, he had relatives being called up to serve in the IDF.

Some 300,000 Israeli reservists have been mobilized.

Blumenthal said that as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he is working on a military aid packages for Israel beyond what’s already been approved, including air defense systems and artillery.

“We will do whatever it takes on a bipartisan basis,” he said. “Support for Israel ought to be above politics.”

“We’ll never let anyone get in our way of our relationship with Israel,” said Gov. Ned Lamont.

“It’s not a territorial dispute to take land,” he said. “It’s an effort to demonize and destroy a people. It is the most dehumanizing, vicious attack on a people since the Holocaust.”      

A video of the gathering can be viewed here.   

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 35 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.