More than 100 people gathered outside of the Queens Public Library in Kew Gardens Hills to show their support and stand in solidarity with Israel while mourning the lives lost as a result of Hamas’ surprise attack this past weekend.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who gathered numerous politicians and religious leaders for the vigil, said that Queens is home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the country, a fact that was made clear in Kew Gardens Hills, where police closed down Vleigh Place to make room for the solemn crowd clad with signs in the color of the Israeli flag.
Early on Saturday morning, Oct. 7, the Hamas militant group which controls Palestinian territory launched an unprecedented incursion on Israel. Since then, the death toll on both sides has steadily climbed. At the time of the vigil, it is estimated that the violence killed 900 people in Israel and injured 2,500. And as Israel began to strike back in a full declaration of war, more than 600 people are dead in Gaza, including over 100 children, according to published reports.
Following a moment of silence, community leaders across the borough took turns expressing their solidarity with those in Israel and the local Jewish community. They collectively denounced the violence that unfolded in the region over the past two days and offered what words they could to ease the suffering. And while there was little anyone could do about violence in the Middle East, their passionate and emotional response conveyed their stance.
“We’ve been in front of this library in this neighborhood, standing up for Israel so many times,” said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, who is Jewish. “There’s gonna come a day when we don’t have to gather here, that the world knows that Israel has a right to defend itself. And then Israel knows that it has a right to live free.”
Katz was one of the handful of politicians who reinstated that “this isn’t about politics” and focused on the personal angle, with an anecdote from a trip to Israel decades ago during an Intifada. She recalled being with Council Member James Gennaro, who also delivered remarks at the vigil, when he bought his first yarmulke.
But for some representatives, it was political.
Richards and U.S. Rep. Grace Meng both denounced a pro-Palestine rally held by the Democratic Socialists of America in Times Square the day prior. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks was also in attendance at Monday’s rally.
“Let’s be clear: this was terrorism, plain and simple. No matter what you think, no matter what your perspective is of Israel’s relationship with Palestine, there is absolutely no justification for this brutality,” Richards said, receiving a round of applause. “To have people in Times Square celebrating, that is despicable. That’s un-American. That’s not who we are.”
Meng reinstated that “there is no time for politics” and criticized “rallies attended by DSA members, cheering the rape, murder and kidnapping of innocent civilians, from children to grandparents” as well as “people holding up swastika images.”
She also conveyed support for making the annual $3.8 billion in military aid that the U.S. sends to Israel into law. And earlier in the day, she called on the State Department to bring any Americans stranded in Israel home amid canceled flights, possibly with military or charter planes.
For those who have family members in Israel, the cause was incredibly personal and emotional.
“My family, my friends in Israel have been terrorized and traumatized. I have been traumatized,” said Assemblymember Nily Rozic, who represents eastern Queens and ended her remarks with a prayer in Hebrew. “So many of my cousins, my family members have been fighting to keep everyone safe.”
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams spoke on behalf of several City Council members in attendance, including Selvena Brooks-Powers, Linda Lee, Sandra Ung, Lynn Schulman and Gennaro.
“I stand before you as a proud Jew and in total and utter solidarity with the State of Israel,” said Schulman, who is the only Jewish City Council member in Queens and represents the district where the vigil was held.
Religious leaders in attendance included Queens Jewish Community Council President Michael Nussbaum, who worked with the borough president to organize the vigil, and Rabbi Blesofsky of the Chabad of Northeast Queens.
“We come together to denounce these horrific acts of violence. We remember the victims who have been killed, injured and harmed. And we indeed pray together for the safety of Israelis and Palestinians,” said Adams on behalf of the city council. “We pray for peace for all because everyone deserves to live with dignity and security.”
Following the sentiments, the crowd collectively shared a prayer in song.