Under watchful eyes of police stationed on nearby rooftops, hundreds gathered outside Town Hall in West Hartford on Monday to hear political leaders and clergy express outrage at the terrorist attack on Israel and the hope it will not birth endless cycles of retribution.
“Some have called this attack Israel’s 9/11,” said David Waren, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. “In a way its impact is even worse. Israel is a small country. There is not a family in Israel who doesn’t know someone who was killed, injured, missing or captive.”
The missile and ground attack by Hamas over the weekend claimed nearly 900 lives in southern Israel communities outside Gaza, including many young people at an outdoor concert. Hamas and other militants say they are holding 130 Israeli captives, some children and elderly taken from their homes.
Israeli air strikes and other fighting have killed more than 680 in the Gaza Strip, the densely populated Palestinian enclave in southwest Israel on the border with Egypt, the Associated Press reported. It is governed by Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.
Shock from the most significant attack on Israeli territory since the Yom Kippur War of 1973 quickly rippled throughout the Jewish diaspora around the world, with the shock giving way to anger, resolve and sense of mission. Waren said the federation raised $200,000 for relief efforts in 12 hours.
“Our community connections to Israel are vast and deep,” said Mayor Shari Cantor. “We all have family, dear friends and colleagues in Israel that are all affected.”
The White House announced Monday night that President Joe Biden had spoken with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to reaffirm the United States stands with Israel as they defend themselves” and to inquire on the status of Americans missing since the raid.
It was same sentiment shared in West Hartford by Connecticut’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and Gov. Ned Lamont.
“We are here today to say — in fact to shout — we stand with Israel, we grieve with Israel, and we pray with Israel,” Blumenthal said. “This fight is our fight. This fight is America’s fight. This fight is all of our fight, because it is a fight against terrorism. And we will stand against terrorism.”
Similar events were scheduled Monday in Woodbridge and Westport.
“This is a moment where we are going to have to stand as a nation with greater force, with greater purpose than ever, to make sure that Israel has what it needs,” Murphy said. “But it is a day to remember that no matter how lethal, no matter how successful this operation is to hunt down and bring those to justice who perpetrated these crimes, Israel is going to need our support next year, the year after, and for decades to come.”
Murphy, who chairs a Foreign Relations subcommittee with oversight over Middle East policy and terrorism, said in an interview after the event that the Biden administration had not confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that Iranian security officials helped Hamas plan the attack and gave a green light at a meeting in Beirut a week ago.
“But these attacks would not be possible without regular daily support from Iran,” Murphy said. “Iran has blood all over their hands, regardless of what comes to light in terms of how detailed the Iranians were in the planning.”
Lamont, who traveled last year to Israel on a trade mission, alluded obliquely to the disagreements some American and Israeli Jews have with Netanyahu’s government over its treatment of the two Palestinian territories, Gaza and the West Bank.
“We are like family. America and Israel are like family,” Lamont said, noting every family has its squabbles. “But then at the end of the day, when push comes to shove, we are like this — American and Israel are like this.”
He held up two fingers, no space between them.
Murphy said the attacks, which came as the Biden administration was encouraging talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia, were not a time to talk about Israeli policy or the plight of the Palestinians.
“There’s no difference of opinion that people may have inside or outside of Israel that justifies these acts of barbarism,” Murphy said after the event. “Right now, our focus simply has to be on rescuing the hostages and holding those people that perpetrated these acts to account.”
Others expressed hope that the attacks and counter attacks will wane and peace could prevail. Among them was Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, a physician and Pakistani immigrant who is the first of two Muslims elected to the General Assembly.
“I want my Jewish brothers and sisters and friends and family to know that I grieve with you. We grieve together,” Anwar said. “I refuse to let Hamas and any organization or group kill our hopes of a shared future with the children, the great grandchildren of Muslims, Christians and Jews… playing together and praying together in the Holy Land.”
Anwar was applauded.
A call by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., for “a de-escalation of the current violence” drew boos on the Boston Common, according to the Boston Globe, even though he couched the call with a denunciation of Hamas and assertion of Israel’s right to self-defense.
Radenka Maric, the European-born president of the University of Connecticut, urged peace to the West Hartford audience. She said her grandparents didn’t survive the Holocaust.
“But my parents taught me always to believe in faith, in humanity. And I’m calling us in this difficult time to strive for the peace,” she said. “My role as a UConn president is to teach all our students the value of the peace, the value of the harmony, and that violence doesn’t have a place in any of our communities.”
Asif Peretz, a 24-year-old Israeli woman living in West Hartford, spoke as an emissary of Israel, tearfully relating the panicked calls to and from home. As she finished, someone began singing “Am Yisrael Chai,” which translates to the “the people of Israel live.”
Rabbi Rebekah Goldman of Simsbury, who had followed Peretz to the microphone, picked up the tune, as did many in the crowd. When the singing stopped, Goldman spoke of a call with a friend in Israel whose husband was in the military, on duty near Gaza.
“My dear friend said, ‘This must be solved at any cost.’ And then his voice broke,” Goldman said. “And he said, ‘Not at any cost.’ In a mere second, his feelings of rage and fear, and exhaustion and despair, were supplanted by the purest and most compassionate form of longing for humanity.”
His friend already was questioning the cost of retribution.
“His words brought tears to my eyes and a renewal of hope that I could not imagine could ever be present so soon, that somehow this cycle of senseless violence and callous inhumanity can be broken,” Goldman said. “We are all sick of the violence, the inhumanity, the tragic waste of precious human life. We must squash the perpetuation of hate that fans these flames out of control.”
When she finished, Rabbi Jeffrey Bennett of Newington met her eye, nodded and mouthed a silent message. He said later he agreed with all the speakers, but he appreciated the difference of her message. In Hebrew, he said he told Goldman, “Good job.”