Hundreds of Forest Hills residents joined faith leaders for a community candlelight vigil in McDonald Park on Oct. 9 to remember the more than 1,000 Israelis who were killed during the Hamas terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 and in support of the more than 360,000 reservists who were called up in support of the “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip.
A majority of the assembled crowd likely has connections to someone currently caught up in the maelstrom that has engulfed the region.
“There are no words to describe what’s going on right now. How do we deal? How do we express ourselves when encountering such an ultimate calamity,” Forest Hills Jewish Center Rabbi Daniel Graber said. “If the Israeli dead were converted into proportions of the United States population, those numbers would be over 30,000. The 2,600 injured would be nearly 80,000 for Israel. This is 9/11 and this is Pearl Harbor all wrapped into one.”
Rabbi Mark Kaiserman of the Reform Temple of Forest Hills spoke of the more than 150 who are currently being held hostage.
“Israelis kidnapped to Gaza, including toddlers, children and the elderly. Now they’re kept in cages and used as human bargaining chips,” Kaiserman said. “The Jewish community often disagrees on matters of Israeli politics. The world community often castigates Israel for their actions, but no true human being can justify these attacks. We are united, we are united as this was the worst that people can do.”
The vigil was organized by community leader and former City Council candidate Ethan Felder.
“I would say there is a long-standing vibrant Jewish community that is diverse in denomination along with its viewpoints, but one that feels very strongly that Israel needs to be supported in this moment,” Felder said. “Obviously, we are all feeling very emotional in this moment.”
The labor attorney and his wife Germana recently welcomed their first child, an experience that gave them added motivation to organize the vigil.
“I thought to myself how fortunate I am to live in a safe home where I don’t have to worry about the safety of our little girl while she is sleeping, unlike the people who are experiencing this indescribable trauma that right now in Israel is awful,” he said.
While the community vigil was underway, Gov. Kathy Hochul was receiving a briefing by the State Police and the New York State Intelligence Center (NYSIC), which has been closely monitoring content on social media and other online channels. While there are no credible threats at this time, online monitoring has shown increased chatter from Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and pro-Hamas extremists.
“As New Yorkers grieve loved ones impacted by the abhorrent Hamas terror attacks, it’s critical we provide the security necessary for Jewish communities here in New York,” Hochul said. “Immediately following the Hamas attacks, I deployed the New York State Police to increase security measures to protect synagogues, yeshivas, cultural centers and other at-risk sites. Now, it’s time for social media companies to do the same: monitor the speech on your platform and crack down on incitements to violence – before it’s too late.”
Felder appreciated the governor’s announcement, adding that such online intimidation by such groups have been emboldened by anti-Israel rallies like the one sanctioned by the Democratic Socialists of America in Times Square on Oct. 7.
“Certainly. Hate finds boldness, when it’s fueled and normalized and tries to isolate and alienate the forces of light amid their darkness,” Felder told QNS. “I would say there are groups with influence in the politics of this town who have revealed their sheer and utter moral bankruptcy.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Chairman Michael McCaul were joined by 390 of their colleagues on Oct. 10, to introduce a bipartisan resolution standing with Israel as it defends itself against the “barbaric war” launched by Hamas terrorists.
“President Biden has committed the United States fully to Israel’s self-defense,” Meeks said. “Israel is responding to the Hamas terror organization’s unprecedented attack. The bipartisan resolution will demonstrate this is one issue in which the U.S. House of Representatives is united, and I expect it to pass the House with broad bipartisan support.”