County-Wide Solidarity Rally for Israel Held at Temple Israel Center of White Plains

By Joyce Farrell

On October 10, Westchester Stands With Israel, a county-wide Solidarity Rally, was held at Temple Israel Center of White Plains. Jews and non-Jews alike attended to show their solidarity with Israel. There were many political and community leaders in attendance; some of them spoke to the capacity-filled temple. Tara Slone-Goldstein, the Westchester Regional Chair of the UJA Federation of New York, stated that over 1,000 people were killed (to date), many more were kidnapped or are missing, and over 4,000 families will need assistance for many different reasons, including medical needs. 

Rabbi Evan Hoffman, President of the Westchester Board Rabbis, began his address with a prayer and stated, “We are comrades in arms.” He then prayed for those taken hostage and told those gathered that not everyone will be on our side, even concerning the hostages, “but we appreciate those who are.”  

Elliot Forchheimer, CEO, Westchester Jewish Council shared, “The Westchester Jewish Council was founded 48 years ago in response to the Jewish community needing a central organization to convene and unite the community after the Yom Kippur war.  And thus was born the Westchester Jewish Conference(Council).  This past week, in response to the massacre of the people of Israel by Hamas, the Westchester community, Jews and allies alike, gathered in record numbers to stand together in solidarity with Israel in a series of rallies and events.   Once again we learn that love and unity will always beat hate.  Always.”

AJC’s Chief Advocacy Officer, Belle Yoeil, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, spoke to the crowd, calling the attack on Gaza an “organized massacre,” Israel’s 9/11, and pointed out that both Israelis and Palestinians were killed. She stated that the American Jewish Committee was doing all it could to bring home the hostages kidnapped by Hamas and referenced President Biden who said the attack by Hamas was “pure, unadulterated evil unleashed on the world.” She then informed those gathered that the first plane with advanced U.S. ammunition had landed in Israel earlier in the day and that Israel was preparing for more threats from terrorists. She stated that rallies justifying the actions of Hamas cannot go unanswered, asserting, “Hamas must be strongly condemned and held accountable.” Comparing the attacks to those on 9/11, she asserted that rallies supporting Hamas were analogous to justifying the hijackings by Al-Qaeda terrorists on 9/11. She concluded by saying, “We are heartbroken, but we stand together.”

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Majority Leader of the NYS Senate, remarked that she was “in shock and mortified that we again have to stand shoulder to shoulder” against Hamas and against the idea that the State of Israel had no right to exist. She expressed pride in her community and all for showing up, not just to the rally but every day until “we have defeated Hamas and peace prevails.”

NYS Senator Shelley B. Mayer told the rally’s attendees that when she heard of the attack on Israel, she was celebrating her son’s wedding. She spoke emotionally about how Hamas was holding children hostage and asserted that it was time to unite and to make sure that we bring our American brothers and sisters home. Senator Mayer vowed, “We stand with Israel without hesitation” and stated that we would not be divided by politics or anything else. She concluded, “We will win the fight against Hamas and terrorism.”

Westchester County Board of Legislators Chair Vedat Gashi shared that he was born in Kosovo and was an Albanian Muslim refugee. Remarking about the more than one thousand people murdered by Hamas in the attack and close to two hundred more kidnapped and held hostage, including Americans, he maintained that we must do all that we can to rescue them and pledged unwavering support for Israel. He asserted that this is not the time to debate the politics of Israel; rather, it is a time for compassion, empathy, and humanity – a time to grieve, pray, and show support.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer followed Gashi and spoke of the horrors and atrocities of the attack. “We are one with them,” he stated. He noted the support of all, whether Catholic, Muslim, Jew or those with no faith, all understand what an inhuman thing happened. He maintained that Hamas and Iran aren’t seeking fairness for Palestinians; they’re seeking to obliterate Israel and that the ideology Hamas is trying to spread in the Middle East is akin to the ideology of China, Russia, and North Korea. He was appalled by the rallies organized by the Democratic Socialist Party in support of Hamas and that they dared to put a human face on something so inhumane. Latimer praised Israel for working more than seventy-five years to build a land more inclusive than the counties around them. He pledged that we will support allies in war when the cause is just, concluding, “Our cause and the cause of Israel is just.”

Itay Milner, Spokesperson and Consul for Media Affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York, related that he awoke on October 8, to a message from his mom, “We are at war.” About the attackers, Milner said, “We miscalculated them, but I think that they miscalculated us more.” He felt that they thought we were divided and weak. He asserted, however, “Whenever they try to get rid of us, we unify, and we get stronger.” Promising both to get all the hostages home and justice, he stated, “Unlike those years when we got massacred, we have an army, one of the strongest in the world, and we have an ally who is the strongest in the world.”

Sixteen-year-old student from Scarsdale High School, Benjamin Siegel, related that he received a text on Sunday morning, October 8, that one of his best friends in Israel, his scout leader, had been killed in battle. He mentioned that he had other friends who had been injured and stated, “This is not normal. It can never be normal. They were only teenagers.” In conclusion, he said that his scout leader’s story is a story of Israel, and we must stand with Israel.

Doctor Erwin Lee Trollinger, Jr. of Calvary Baptist Church of White Plains and President of the Minister Fellowship Council of White Plains spoke of how on June 17, 2015, when an anti-Black mass shooting occurred during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Jewish community and all religious leaders stood together against violence, and we must repay that debt. He stated, “In order for our world to move forward to a world of understanding, we must stop making hate become normal.” He lamented the attack on Israel, the place of many faiths that stem from Father Abraham, but feels that “even in this dark time, there is still a light that will be shone. May it come swiftly.”

At the end of the program, Arlene Kleinberg, a member of the Executive Committee of the Westchester Jewish Council, spoke of how people can help. First, show up and show support, like the thousands outside of the United Nations today. Next, be as generous as you can and donate what you can. Also, reach out to political offices and build political support, and reach out to those who live in Israel and give them a virtual hug. Finally, stay informed.

Afterward, William H. Schrag, President of the Westchester Jewish Council, commented, “The Westchester Jewish Council was formed 48 years ago, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, to provide a single organization for the diverse Jewish population of Westchester to unite under a single banner.  With 1,500 people attending the rally in person and another 1,500 participating online, we were true to our mission and are honored to have helped our community show their solidarity with the people of Israel and give strength and comfort to one another. It was particularly gratifying to see, not only Jews of all stripes come together, but also a large turnout of our elected officials and non-Jewish neighbors–clergy and lay people alike– who wanted to be counted during Israel’s time of need.”