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Israel Crisis Prompts Outpouring of Community Action

Throughout Los Angeles, the response to events in Israel have included robust programming and a flurry of activity reflecting the community’s unwavering solidarity with the Jewish State.
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October 18, 2023
On Oct. 10, a StandWithUs pro-Israel rally in Westwood drew supporters of Israel of all ages. Photo by Ryan Torok

Throughout Los Angeles, the response to events in Israel have included robust programming and a flurry of activity reflecting the community’s unwavering solidarity with the Jewish State.

“What we see here today is an expression of that spirit of Israel—and may the love and the adoration and the dedication of the Los Angeles Jewish community find its way fully to our brothers and sisters in Israel who are enduring unimaginable pain and anguish at this moment.” – Richard Hirschhaut

“Israel is about life; Israel is about the joy of life,” American Jewish Community L.A. Regional Director Richard Hirschhaut told the Journal at a recent pro-Israel rally. “What we see here today is an expression of that spirit of Israel—and may the love and the adoration and the dedication of the Los Angeles Jewish community find its way fully to our brothers and sisters in Israel who are enduring unimaginable pain and anguish at this moment.”

The outpouring of support comes amidst Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. On Oct. 7, Islamic terrorists infiltrated the Israel-Gaza border and proceeded to kill hundreds of Israelis on kibbutzim, in southern villages and at a music festival, among other locations. They also kidnapped and took as hostages approximately 200 civilians. 

“They didn’t come there because of a provocation,” Jacob Segal, a board member of the Southern California-Israel Chamber of Commerce, told the Journal. “They came because they wanted to kill Jews, and this is very important to understand.”

In the days since, community members of all ages have expressed outrage over Hamas’ actions while demonstrating their unbreakable bond with Israel.

“We’re here to support Israel because innocent people are being attacked,” Natalie Gul, a Shalhevet High School student and children’s book author, told the Journal at an Oct. 10 StandWithUs rally. “It has to stop.”

Beth Jacob Congregation Rabbi Kalman Topp and StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein speak out for Israel. By Ryan Torok

Speakers at the StandWithUs rally included StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein, Beth Jacob Congregation Rabbi Kalman Topp, Sinai Temple Co-Senior Rabbis Erez Sherman and Nicole Guzik and Chabad West Coast Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin.  The event was held outside the Federal Building, where day school students from Shalhevet High School and YULA High School broke out in impromptu dancing while singing “Am Yisrael Chai.” Attendees crowded the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue waving Israeli flags while carrying signs reading, “The Cancer is Iran,” “Hamas = Pure Evil,” and “This is the Same Ignorance that led to the Death of 6 Million.”

“It’s important to show your support for the community, to stand up for Israel, to stand up for the Jewish community,” Jewish actor and congressional candidate Ben Savage, an attendee at the Oct. 10 demonstration, told the Journal. “It’s such a vulnerable community. They’re such good people. It makes me very uncomfortable when they try to issue a moral equivalency between what’s happening. 

“As far as today, I think it’s important to show our support for the Jewish community and let Israel know they’re not alone, let the Jewish community know they’re not alone,” Savage said. “We’re here.”

In the days following the Oct. 7 Simchat Torah attack on Israel, the Los Angeles Jewish community has come together and held solidarity Shabbat services, pro-Israel marches and informational sessions on Zoom about rapidly unfolding events inside Israel. 

At Milken Community School, students and faculty have busied themselves with hanging Israeli flags throughout the school campus; connecting with alumni who are currently living overseas; and organizing town hall sessions. The school’s senior class president asked for permission to attend the StandWithUs rally, bringing along several classmates. On Oct. 15, a teen-led vigil at Valley Beth Shalom was organized by two students from Milken and two students at de Toledo High School.

“In all the darkness, the students have really been the light of it,” Milken Community School Head of School Sarah Shulkind told the Journal in a phone interview. “Their strength, resolve and dedication to Israel is really powerful.”

Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi David Block expressed a similar sentiment. Like everyone else, the Orthodox day school administrator has seen the horrifying content being shared on social media, including videos showing Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians, and has been encouraging students to minimize their Instagram and TikTok use as a way of protecting their emotional wellbeing.

“We thought it was a fair message to use discretion,” Block said. “Whether they delete the apps or not, at least use discretion and have discussions around what it means to use social media carefully. It’s a practical and symbolic gesture.”

Others have been showing their support for Israel by fundraising and doing volunteer work. After the war broke out, Gabrielle Dromy immediately thought of friends who were serving as lone soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. The L.A.-based activist has since been raising funds to benefit the Israel-based Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin.

As the crisis in Israel continues, Hirschhaut said people demonstrating unconditional backing of the country’s people is vital.

“It is essential, crucial, that all of the L.A. Jewish community, from all streams of observance to non-observance, come together unified in our love and support for Israel in the face of the absolute abominable horror our loved ones are experiencing as we speak,” the AJC leader said. “This terror touches everyone. There is not a single person in Israel not affected one way or the other, either directly or indirectly. We are all connected.”

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