Gil Preuss

Together in Mourning & Solidarity

Gil Preuss speaking at the DC Area Vigil for Israel at Adas Israel Congregation. Credit: Avi Gerver.
Gil Preuss speaking at the DC Area Vigil for Israel at Adas Israel Congregation. Credit: Avi Gerver.

It’s been less than two weeks since the worst killing of Jews since the Holocaust. I still don’t fully have the words to capture what this moment feels like, what it means for the Jewish people. But if I can leave the Jewish community with one message, it’s that you are not alone.

The Jewish community needs you and is here for you. In so many ways, our community is built to facilitate joy. But it is also here, undoubtedly, to see us through the unimaginable. That’s what we must do for each other now, be there for one another through the pain and anguish, discrimination and noise. Israel and the Jewish people face enormous challenges ahead. But our resilience is just as vast.

As the war in Israel continues, thousands from the Greater Washington region have gathered in solidarity and more than 3,800 collectively donated more than $10 million to Federation’s Israel Crisis Relief Fund to help Israelis pay for medical bills, trauma services, housing, and other essential needs.

I want to share my remarks below from one of last week’s many Greater Washington community vigil, where thousands of community members stood shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart in mourning and solidarity.

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Remarks from the DC Area Vigil for Israel at Adas Israel Congregation 
October 10, 2023

Od Am Chesed Yemaleh. Please God, fill this world with kindness and love.

Good evening.

Thank you, Rabbis Shankman, Holtzblatt, and Alexander. Thank you to all the other Rabbinic and communal leaders who have come together in support of Israel in this time of need, to the musicians for speaking to our souls, and to everyone who made tonight possible.

I am Gil Preuss. CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

At this moment, I am heartbroken. Infuriated. Frustrated. And to be honest, I am sick to my stomach. How could this happen? How do we live in a world where people do this to one another?

Every time I watch or read the news, I feel more pain. As my family and friends know, I have been trying to keep as busy as possible so as to not think or feel.

And yet, I know that I have the responsibility to watch, to feel, and to cry. 1,200 people murdered. 1,000s more injured. Deborah Matias. Hayim Katsman. Col. Jonathan Sternberg, Gili Adar. And so many more people. All murdered.

As of now, there are 150 people being held as hostages as part of a cynical and evil negotiation tactic. They include 5-year-olds, 3-year-olds, a 9-month-old, a Holocaust survivor.

It’s almost unspeakable. Unthinkable. As President Biden described this afternoon, the attacks are “a violation of every code of human morality.”

Tonight, we must remember every one of those individuals who was murdered in their homes, on the streets, or at the music festival. Each one of them has a story, has a family, and had a future.

We must hold in our hearts and in our minds every parent whose child was murdered or kidnapped; every child who saw their parent killed; every young adult who cannot find their friend; every injured who is fighting for their life; every relative who buried an entire family.

What we are feeling is happening deep in our chest. It is a blow to our souls. And to the very essence of humanity. The pain running through all of us, through the veins of Israel and coursing through the Jewish people, is almost too hard to bear.

And yet, we must.

There is no antidote to the horrific pain. But even as we wrestle with our anguish, we must heed the call to be a source of strength in this devastating time of crisis.

Even from afar, we have important work to do.

We can be there for our friends and family in Israel. Messaging, coordinating, comforting however we can. Every text, every email, every phone call is vital. Israelis must understand that they are not alone.

We can be there for each other. Many of us in this room tonight have family and friends directly impacted by this horror. We do not have to witness this, or get through this, alone.

And, importantly, we can be there for Israel as passionate advocates, standing up for its right to exist, to defend itself, and to do so in peace and safety.

This crisis – this war – is far from over. The trauma of this moment is unlike any we have experienced.

This situation will be part of our lives for days and weeks to come and for the rest of our lives. And we are going to need each other through it all. This community is here to sustain us.

I know our hearts are straining in Israel’s direction. I know we would beam ourselves there if we could. Just to give our friends and family a hug. And cry together as we process this ongoing tragedy.

For now, we must comfort the bereaved. Stand up for what is right. And work hard for peace in the land of hope.

Despite the unimaginable trauma, despite the fear and anxiety, the resilience of our Israeli brothers and sisters is being repeated in every conversation. “B’sorot tovot,” Israelis tell one another these days. May better times lie ahead.

Thank you for being here.

About the Author
Gil Preuss has been the Chief Executive Officer of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington since 2017. Prior to his work at Federation, he served as the Executive Vice President at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) of Greater Boston.
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