By HANK GREENBERG
This essay is derived from remarks given by the author at the Operation Swords of Iron Community Rally & Emergency Fund, held at Temple Beth Emeth, in Albany, the evening of Oct. 9, 2023.
For Jews of my generation, this past Shabbat was the worst deja vu experience of our lives. I remembered where I was 50 years before, almost exactly to the day, on October 6, 1973. I was sitting in Synagogue observing Yom Kippur with my family. I was eleven years old.
I saw the elders in the Shul, whispering to one another, exchanging rumors that Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel. Later that day, before we broke the fast, we turned on the TV and watched the news to see if what we heard in Shul was true. That’s when we grasped that the threat facing Israel was existential; that Egypt had crossed the Suez Canal and Syrian tanks were rolling into the Golan Heights.
Fast forward 50 years. I, like all of you, woke up this Saturday to an equally terrifying reality. Once again, the Jewish state was the victim of a surprise attack on a religious holiday, this time launched by Hamas from Gaza.
But this attack was even more ghastly. Hamas’ objective was not to hit military targets, but to kill as many innocent men, women and children as they could. And they succeeded.
By air, sea and land, Hamas attacked civilian population centers on multiple fronts. Over 5,000 rockets were fired at Israel. Terrorists infiltrated towns and shot indiscriminately at innocent civilians. Firefights broke out in Ashdod, Siderot and elsewhere in the South of Israel.
The butcher’s toll is heartbreaking. On a single day, more than 700 Israelis were killed, the most Jews murdered, at one time, since the Holocaust. Over 2,300 people were wounded. Roughly 150 people are now held hostage in Gaza.
In the largest-casualty event, Hamas gunmen surrounded 4,000 young people who were attending an outdoor festival. The gunmen then fired on the crowd. At least 260 people, mostly teenagers and young adults, were mowed down.
The world has been shocked to the core by video images that show Hamas terrorists roaming the streets of Israeli towns entering houses and shooting inhabitants; kidnapping young families (including babies), the elderly, and others; and displaying unconscious victims like trophies. Videos also show streets littered with bodies; women bleeding profusely; and the desecration of the dead.
We have been here before. The Jewish people have experienced such barbarism countless times over our 4,000-year history. That is why the Passover Haggadah teaches that, “In every generation our enemies will rise up and try to destroy us.”
The Pharaohs, the Inquisition, the pogroms of the Russian Empire, the Holocaust, taught us well. “Never again” is not a mere slogan. It is a mantra borne of millennia of suffering.
This past Friday, Israelis went to work, took vacations, enjoyed their families, lived normal lives. But beginning at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday their world changed. October 7, 2023 is a day that will live in infamy.
Rest assured Israel will win this war. Israel will win because it must win — they are fighting for their lives and land.
The world needs Israel to win, too. The civilized world, if it is to remain civilized, must defend democracies against terrorism. It must not let the rule of law devolve to the law of tooth and claw. And it is not.
Today, the free world stands as one, together in their support for Israel. But Israel needs our help. And help we will.
If one Jew suffers anywhere all Jews suffer everywhere. A central tenet of our faith is Tikkun Olam (“To heal the world”) and Tzedakah (“righteousness”). The Talmud teaches that: “Whoever saves one life, saves us all.” So, we can — so, we will.
Relieving the suffering of others is in our DNA; it is who we are; it is what we do. And we can do that by helping Israel now.
All who keep abreast of developments in Israel perform a Mitzvah (“a righteous deed”). You are bearing witness to the suffering of fellow human beings. Bearing witness is more than just seeing. It is a moral responsibility. And you are fulfilling that responsibility.
But you must do more. We cannot put on an IDF uniform, pick-up a rifle, and go into battle. The way we can help is through money — digging as deeply as we can into your pocket and supporting Israel.
Your donations will help the victims rebuild their lives. They will also go to our Partnership Region of Eshkol, which is on the border and hardest hit. Many of our colleagues, friends, and families have been murdered, taken, or are missing.
For American Jewry, this is our moment of truth. Our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ moment was Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. That generation did everything they could to establish a Jewish State.
Our parents’ moment was the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. They gave, and they gave, and they gave.
Now Israel is at war again. October 7, 2023 is a day that will live in infamy. It is the Jewish people’s Pearl Harbor and 9/11.
What will we do? We will honor the legacy of our mothers and fathers and their mothers’ father, and we will give and give more until it hurts.
Know this: Through your annual gift to Jewish Federation or through a designated gift, your impact will be deep and meaningful to countless people.
Please do your part. I beg you to do your part. Israel needs you. I know you won’t let them down.