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Community briefing participants support Israel and pray for peace

Chicago-area supporters of Israel attend community briefing at Anshe Emet Synagogue about the situation in Israel and Gaza.

Community Briefing image
Rabbi Daniel Burg leads Anshe Emet’s choir in a song of peace.

Two hundred Chicago-area supporters of Israel filed into Anshe Emet Synagogue on the evening of January 8 for the community’s second briefing about the situation in Israel and Gaza.

Organized by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest, the community briefing featured prominent speakers. After participants sang the national anthems of Israel and the United States, Rabbi Michael Siegal exhorted the crowd, “Tonight we join to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael.”

Invoking Israel’s constant struggle Siegel lamented that Israel has not seen “real peace” since its founding 60 years ago. He spoke of his tikvah, his hope, for the State of Israel: that the country can see a time when children can “go to school unhindered by war and violence.”

To resounding applause, State Representative Sarah Feigenholtz read a resolution she is cosponsoring, which State Representative Lou Lang plans to submit to the Illinois House of Representatives on January 9. The resolution declares Illinois’ support for Israel to protect “its own citizens in the face of Hamas,” and promises to distribute copies of the resolution to the Secretary General of the United Nations and the United States Secretary of State.

Orli Gil, Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, and Elie Rekhess, Crown Visiting Professor at Northwestern University, related the history of Israel’s relationship with Hamas.

After its 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Israel had hoped that Palestinian self-rule would “lead to good neighbor relations with us,” Gil said. “Instead there were missiles and attacks on our borders.” She also described Hamas’s rejection of peace negotiations and its use of the ceasefire to smuggle new missiles from Iran, which reach far into Israel. While dolefully acknowledging that “Hamas shows no regard for the lives of Palestinians,” Gil described Israel’s efforts to provide “free passage of humanitarian aid and medical supplies into Gaza.

“Israel is not in a war with the Palestinian people, not with the innocent people in the Gaza Strip; rather Israel is in a war with Gaza’s shrewd, hostile leadership,” Gil said.

Rekhess described how the Hamas ideology and charter affects Palestinians. Hamas has “revitalized” fundamentalist Islam, and has morphed the conflict from a national and political one to a religious one. For Israel, Rekhess said, “the war launched against Hamas is an existential one.”

Ending on a note of hope, Rekhess pointed out that Hamas is at the point where the PLO was 40 or 50 years ago, noting that the PLO has progressed since then. “Hopefully it will take a shorter time with Hamas.”

Rabbi Matthew Futterman, who for 18 years lived with his wife and children in Ashdod (a city that has now been on the receiving end of Hamas’ rockets), related a story about his family’s ongoing experience with Gaza and Hamas. Debbie Lewis led a prayer for Israel’s solders—including Futterman’s youngest son, who is currently in Gaza—and JUF/JF Executive Vice President Michael Kotzin warned supporters of Israel to be on the lookout for media bias. Finally, Anshe Emet’s choir sung Oseh Shalom, and Rabbi Daniel Burg led the group in a song of peace.

“There are two words that Jewish and Islamic traditions share,” Burg said, “shalom and salaam.” His hope is that one day “Hamas would sing these two words side by side,” which would give us a “chance at peace.”

A large contingent of high school students was present, among them Noah Feingold, who said the event “inspired even the most indifferent to come out and advocate for Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Another student, Zach Fogelson, said the event was “not only one of steadfast support for Israel, but also one which recognized the immense human suffering on both sides.” The gathering, he said, “promoted the peace and prosperity of all parties involved.”

Abby Klionsky is a senior at Walter Payton High School in Chicago and a Senior Fellow in Write On for Israel, and advocacy journalism program of JUF News and the Community Foundation for Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago.

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