An estimated 250 people, including local political and religious leaders, gathered inside Temple Emanuel’s social hall on Wednesday night to show their support for the nation of Israel following this weekend’s terrorist attacks on Israelis that left at least 1,300 civilians killed, including 14 Americans, with 3,300 wounded and more than 100 being held captive by the terrorist group Hamas.
“We thought the horrors of the Holocaust were behind us,” Rabbi David Goldstein told the crowd, some of whom were congregants holding Israeli flags or posters in support of the Jewish nation. “None of us expected them to erupt in 2023 … Having a state of our own was meant to ensure that never again would Jews be lined up and shot, killed in mass graves, children ripped from screaming parents or Jewish blood treated cheaper than tapwater. But this week, at least, it didn’t work.”
Goldstein recited a list of the atrocities committed over the weekend during the holiday of Simchat Torah, when Jews celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle of Torah readings and begin it anew, symbolizing that their passion for spiritual completeness never ends. Instead, on Saturday terrorists managed to break through or dig under Israel’s fortified fence along the border with Gaza, where Palestinians live, and murder and kidnap Israelis. It also occurred on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War.
“Your Jewish friends and neighbors have spent the last couple days in shock, misery and mourning,” Goldstein said. “We were traumatized. Our families are under attack. Some are missing, some are dead and we are not OK.”
Local leaders, many of whom are devout Christians, were invited to speak Wednesday evening.
Mayor Bill Mutz, who has visited Israel, called Hamas “the Nazis of 1930s Germany … It’s the worst travesty of God’s chosen people since the Holocaust.”
Police Chief Sam Taylor appeared to become emotional as he spoke about “the evil I saw being inflicted upon innocent women and children and babies several days ago by the terrorists.”
Florida House Rep. Jennifer Canady said the Lakeland community supports “our friends in Israel.”
“Our purpose is to push back against the darkness — we are standing for the men and women who are fighting for their lives tonight,” Canady said.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who has also visited Israel, said he is angry and would like to join with Israeli Defense Forces to fight against “evil.” Instead, he said, he will ensure that the county’s synagogues and temples will remain safe places to worship and that anti-Semitism will not find a home here. There have been several instances of Neo-Nazis appearing in Lakeland since December.
“A community has to stand up to evil giants time and again and you’ve done that,” Judd said. “You have fought for your freedom through the ages. And once again, I want to make it perfectly clear, that our nation will silently stand with you forever. I assure each and every one of you that I stand with Israel.”
U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, R-Lakeland, is in Washington this week. He is a member of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus, a bipartisan group dedicated to combating a movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel. It also fights against anti-Semitism and supports Israel’s right to safe and secure borders.
Franklin’s District Director Alice Hunt read a statement from him.
“We must annihilate the cancer of Hamas and other Iran-backed terrorist groups who will stop at nothing to destroy Israel,” Franklin’s statement read in part. “We must also show no tolerance for the anti-Semitic hate lurking here at home. The resurgence of anti-Semitism should greatly concern us all — not only Jews. If such hatred is allowed to take root, it inevitably grows until it turns violent and claims lives. Until it becomes genocide and the systemic silencing of an entire people.”
Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Republican, read a letter from a friend he met in Israel, who said the people will stay strong and overcome this. Her letter ended with a Hebrew phrase, which he translated.
“It says, ‘All in the house of Israel are brothers,’” Ross said, adding his own words. “I pray that we all become ambassadors of this truth. And I pray more dearly that we all become ambassadors against evil and toward its eradication. Shalom.”
Tim Sizemore, pastor of Beacon Hill Fellowship, a joint congregation of the Presbyterian Church USA and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Church, which is welcoming to all people, spoke. He described himself as a man who follows the one who said blessed are the peacemakers.
“But I cannot be naïve when it comes to matters of war and peace — the enemies of peace also get a vote and this past week the enemies of peace in this case elected to target Israeli civilians with acts of violence intended to terrorize,” Sizemore said, noting that Israel has a right to protect its citizens. “It was hard watching acts of barbarism while they were shouting over and over again ‘God is great’ … I’m also aware that faith can be weaponized (and of) the dangers of worshiping the same God who happens to hate the same people we hate. I want to build a better world where that just and lasting peace may come to all people.”
Buddhist Monk Betz Meff chanted a “prayer to prevent calamity” in Japanese and translated it into English.
“We pray for the swift resolution of this painful conflict,” she said. “And may we live in perfect peace.”
Temple Emanuel Cantor Victor Geigner sang several prayers and songs, starting with Am Yisrael Chai, which means “The people of Israel live.” He also sang Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem, along with the El Moleh, a prayer for the dead that left some in tears.
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