“No I’m not OK! That’s how I want to respond when people ask me how I’m doing,” said Rabbi Josh Franklin opening a “Rally in Solidarity with Israel” held Wednesday evening at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton, New York.
“I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m disgusted. In pain. My heart hurts. And my soul feels crushed,” said the rabbi. “It might feel easier to say I’m fine, but let’s be honest, we’re not fine. None of us are really OK, and that’s why we’re here.”
Some 300 people filled the synagogue. There were so many in its sanctuary that the overflow had to go to a social hall below to watch those speaking on a large video screen, hear JCOH Cantor Debra Stein sing, and participate in reciting psalms with those in the sanctuary.
“What we’re experiencing right now is trauma,” said Rabbi Jan Urbach of The Bridge Shul. “We’re all affected differently. But we’re all affected. Even as we look to identify and care for those in immediate peril and in greatest need, it’s important to recognize that we all need some care right now, in different ways, to different degrees.”
“We need to find moments of calm amid fear and heartbreak and we need to know we’re not alone,” said Rabbi Urbach of the Bridgehampton-based congregation.
“We discover in the psalms that there’s nothing we’re feeling now that hasn’t been felt by our ancient ancestors thousands of years ago and in all the generations between—it’s all in there,” she said. “We have been here before, we’ve survived.”
Rabbi Urbach led in reading Psalm 142 which says: “They have laid a trap in the path I walk….Listen to my cry, for I have been brought very low; save me from my pursuers.” Yet, “The righteous find glory.”
Those attending the rally included young and old.
Rabbis from across the East End of Long Island joined in messages of hope—and strength.
Not only Jews but those of other faiths were there including public officials. Among them were Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni, East Hampton Councilwoman Kathee Burke Gonzalez and East Hampton Mayor Jerry Larsen.
And there was Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman who is Jewish and whose mother’s family in Hungary was murdered in the Holocaust.
Schneiderman after the rally ended commented that “it is very important that elected officials stand with the people of Israel during this time defending themselves against the terror of Hamas and to send a clear message that Israel’s sovereignty and homeland security needs to be protected.”
“This is not a time for silence,” he said.
And, Schneiderman continued, “it feels very personal as a Jewish elected leader.”
Rabbi Franklin of JCOH in his opening remarks also said: “A weird thing happened to me over the weekend, Saturday night: a freak accident. I scratched my cornea. And one of the results of that was tears were streaming down my face. Yet my eyes were already swollen and my cheeks were already damp from all the crying that I was doing during the day. And I couldn’t tell if crying was because of the pain in my eye or the excruciating agony in my heart.”
“These have been some of my hardest days in my ten years as a rabbi. I’ve never felt so close to teetering from internal anger to externalized rage. I want to remain calm and collected, but, quite honestly, I’m having a lot of trouble doing so.”
Still, he noted, “Do not hate the Egyptians, Moses told the Israelites. The Egyptians, the ones who enslaved us, who killed our babies, the ones who are our tyrants. Don’t hate them. Because it’s not our way.”
“I do not hate,” said the rabbi, “but—a big but—I do unequivocally condemn the brutal and sinister actions of the terrorists who murdered more Jews in a single day than any day since the Holocaust. These were primarily unarmed Israeli women, children, and, yes, babies, too. They weren’t collateral damage; they were targeted because they were defenseless. They were brutalized by terrorists in ways that is nothing short of an expression of pure evil; and the perpetrators proud of their work, posted videos of it and mocked their victims while doing so. No moral equivalency should ever be made to justify or rationalize this kind of behavior.”
“And yet, despite my anger; despite my pain; despite the massive losses—of friends, of family, of our people. I choose not to hate. I choose to embrace my loved ones in my community, I choose to cry with each and every one of you and. hopefully, we can find the strength in our shared stories, our shared histories, and our shared future,” said the rabbi.
“Thank you to each and every one of you for joining us in solidarity with Israel,” said Rabbi Franklin. “To be clear, I don’t ever want to gather like this. We haven’t gathered like this since 2018 in the wake of the event in Pittsburgh [the gunning down of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue]. And I’d prefer to never, ever having to do so again. But since events like the seem to keep happening, I’m glad that when they do we coalesce our communities into one large community. Not just one large Jewish community, but one Hamptons community that holds us up when we’ve been dragged down. And know that the Jewish community is forever grateful for your support and that we will rally for you when you need us just as each and every one of you have rallied for us.”
Rabbi Avraham Bronstein of the Hamptons Synagogue in Westhampton Beach said: “This moment is really about empathy.”
“Empathy,” he said, “could well be the very foundation of Jewish survival, the wellspring of Jewish resilience in the face of the many centuries of persecution and oppression….And the empathy at the heart of our feeling of community, of deep and meaningful connections to ourselves and to others, could well be the catalyst for Jewish success, Jewish achievement throughout the centuries. Because empathy is more than just that feeling that compels us to help when we see others in distress.”
He spoke of “the shock and the horror that we feel towards those that simply don’t see Israelis, those who simply don’t see Jews, as human beings. Our empathy defines us. Their lack of empathy defines them.”
Rabbi Dan Geffen of Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, the rally’s last speaker, said he would “focus on hope” and spoke about a song, Lu Yehi, or “Let It Be,” which became an anthem for the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces during the Yom Kippur War of 50 years ago. Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer was inspired to write the song by the Beatles’ tune “Let it Be,” but the phrase “let it be” in English has a different meaning in Hebrew. Instead of acceptance, it translates to let there be. Lu Yehi is about creating a future.
“Hope isn’t always what we think it is,” said Rabbi Geffen. “It’s not a blind wish, but rather a seed planted in hearts that reminds us, we are not alone in our grief—or in our wishes for a different reality.”
“Hope,” he said, “is a word that feels so close…and so distant.”
Rabbi Geffen urged those at the rally in singing Lu Yehi, “sing with your heart — and let us shed tears of hope.” Lu Yehi begins: “There is still a white sail on the horizon, Opposite a heavy black cloud. All that we ask for—may it be. And if in the evening windows, The light of the holiday candles flickers. All that we seek—may it be.” Toward the end: “And if suddenly, rising from the darkness, Over our heads, the light of a star shines. All that we ask for, may it be.”
The rally concluded with the singing of Hatikva, “The Hope,” Israel’s national anthem, declaring: “Our hope is not yet lost, The hope of two thousand years, To be a free nation in our land, The Land of Zion and Jerusalem.”