Jewish Atlanta Reacts to Hamas Attacks

Jewish Atlanta Reacts to Hamas Attacks

Emotions run the gamut, as the Jewish community plans for a rally in support of Israel.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

A man walks past Sderot police station, which was destroyed during battles to dislodge Hamas gunmen inside, on Oct. 8 // Photo Credit: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Times of Israel
A man walks past Sderot police station, which was destroyed during battles to dislodge Hamas gunmen inside, on Oct. 8 // Photo Credit: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Times of Israel

Beyond any numbers, the videos and photos of Israelis killed, wounded, and kidnapped in the unprecedented Hamas attacks have left Atlanta’s Jewish community with feelings of sorrow, revulsion, and bewilderment.

Prayers and laments have mixed with condemnation and (less publicly) calls for vengeance, along with shock that Israel’s security apparatus — human and technological — could have experienced a failure of such magnitude, resulting (as of Oct. 10) in estimates of at least 1,000 Israelis killed, more than 2,800 wounded, and possibly more than 100 kidnapped and driven into Gaza.

The images of Israelis lying dead in the streets, in their homes, on kibbutzim (including 100 at Kibbutz Beeri and 70 at Kfar Aza), and at an outdoor concert in southern Israel (260 reported); videos with audio of the terrified pleas and tears of the kidnapped (many recorded by their captors), and the stories told by survivors and anguished families — these are the underpinning of the emotions expressed in conversations, emails, and on social media.

“Reach out and check on your Jewish friends. We are not ok right now.” was the message posted Oct. 8 on “X” (formerly known as Twitter) by Democratic state Rep. Esther Panitch, who is Jewish and represents a north Fulton County district.

An Ashkelon resident and his son make their way to safety after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip by Palestinian terrorists hit a building in the southern city, Oct. 9 // Photo Credit: Chaim Goldberg/Times of Israel

Even as social media platforms have provided online forums to express a range of sentiments, a coalition of community groups were planning a community rally in support of Israel that was held Oct. 10 at City Springs in Sandy Springs. The night before, the sanctuary at Chabad of Cobb was packed for “An evening of prayer and unity,” led by Rabbi Ephraim Silverman. A “part vigil, part shiva,” open to the community, was scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 12, at Temple Emanu-El.

Jewish Atlantans with friends and family in Israel continued to check on their welfare, while others report receiving expressions of sympathy and prayers from non-Jewish friends and even strangers.

The Hamas attacks, which began (Atlanta time) late on Friday, Oct. 6, marred observance of Shabbat and that of the holidays of Shimini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

In a message to his congregation on Oct. 9, Rabbi Daniel Dorsch of Congregation Etz Chaim, wrote: “It didn’t happen once. It happened twice. Twice on my walk home from shul on Simchat Torah, I was stopped by non-Jewish neighbors. I had never met either of them; but they saw my kippah. There was a steady flow of tears in the eyes of one as she grabbed my arm. She told me she had been watching the news all weekend.  “I am praying for you and your family and for all of your people,” she managed to say in between sobs.

“The past few days have been unfathomable. Rather than the Psalmist’s ‘days of mourning turning to days of joy,’ it was our days of joy that were turned into mourning.  The death toll from Israel continues to be both devastating and staggering.”

Palestinians take a kidnapped Israeli civilian, center, from Kfar Azza kibbutz into the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7 // Photo Credit: Hatem Ali/AP/Times of Israel

Dorsch, the current president of the Atlanta Rabbinical Assembly, was scheduled to be one of the speakers at the Sandy Springs rally.

“At this gathering, we will study Torah,” he wrote. “We will also pray for the safety and security of the brave soldiers of the IDF.  We will cry out for the injured, and the well-being of the kidnapped so they may return home to the loving arms of their families. We will also mourn the lives of our people that were cut short through brazen acts of barbarian-style, Iranian-supported terrorism.

“Our gathering on Tuesday won’t fix all that has happened.  But I do hope that in some small way, our gathering may begin to dispel some of the darkness and bring a measure of light back to our broken world.”

Another anticipated speaker was Ambassador Anat Sultan-Dadon, the Consul General of Israel to the Southeast, based in Atlanta. On Oct. 8, she posted on “X” a video of Hamas members with kidnapped Israelis and attached the following message: “Viewer discretion advised. The images that you are about to see are not from a horror movie. In the past 36 hours Israelis have been butchered in their homes by Hamas terrorists. Children and mothers taken captive. The dead bodies of women desecrated in the streets of Gaza. Listen to the cries of the victims. Remember each and every one of them.”

Rabbi Lauren Henderson of Congregation Or Hadash sent her congregation a message Oct. 7 that read: “I walked into shul this morning, eager to celebrate Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah with our community and conclude this high holidays season on a note of joy. But I was met, as many of us were, with news of horrific terror out of Israel. As I write these words, over 300 Israelis have been killed and close to 1,600 injured by Hamas terrorists, and dozens of men, women, and children have been taken hostage. Israel is at war, defending herself from merciless attacks. And we feel heartbroken, terrified, angry beyond belief, confused, and numb.” Henderson shared a prayer from the Masorti movement in Israel.

Israeli soldiers move in a convoy at an undisclosed location bordering the Gaza Strip on Oct. 8 // Photo Credit: Jack GUEZ/AFP/Times of Israel

In a Facebook post on Oct. 9, Rabbi Mike Rothbaum of Congregation Bet Haverim wrote: “Saying this, because it must be clearly said: The decades-long occupation, and the oppressive conditions in Gaza, are injustices that stain the name of the state of Israel and the glory of the Jewish people.

“Butchering children is not liberation.
Kidnapping grandparents is not resistance.
Massacring young people at a concert is not justice.
Those who litter the land with corpses are not freedom fighters.”

Further on, Rothbaum wrote:

“And I will add — I despair of this government’s indiscriminate retaliation against Gaza, which is resulting in the consumption of innocent civilian life. All human life is sacred. I believe it is the duty of the Jewish people to uphold that holy principle.

May the One Who makes peace in the heavens, bring peace to us, to all Israel, and all who dwell on earth.”

Ramah Darom issued a statement Oct. 8 that included: “We have been in touch with many Ramah Darom community members living in Israel, including our Mishlachat from this past summer. We’ve learned that Hersh Goldberg-Polin, whose extended family attended our Passover retreat for many years, was at the outdoor festival and is still missing as of this writing. As well, we learned that a member of our summer Mishlachat from 2021 was also at the festival and received minor injuries. We have reached out to both families to offer our support.” [Note: Goldberg-Polin’s mother told CNN on Oct. 10 that her 23-year-old son had been wounded and many have been taken hostage while attending the rave concert in the Negev desert that was attacked by Hamas.]

The Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta issued a statement that read: “Our hearts are broken as we stay glued to the latest developments in Israel. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our partners, friends, grantees, colleagues, and family in Israel during this dark and difficult time, and we stand ready to offer whatever further support they need. As mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters, we are praying for the safe return of hostages, the safety of Israel’s soldiers and citizens, complete healing for the thousands of injured, and comfort to those who have lost loved ones.”

Family and friends attend the funeral of IDF soldier David Shila at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem // Photo Credit: Noam Revkin Fenton/Times of Israel

Two Jewish U.S. diplomats from Atlanta also issued statements.

On Oct. 9, Ambassador Michele Taylor, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United National Human Rights Council, told that body: “I sit before you today, representing the United States of America, with a heavy heart following the horrific attacks carried out by Hamas terrorists on Israeli civilians starting on Oct. 7, 2023. The calamity of that day and the days since has seen hundreds and hundreds of innocent civilian lives lost and we are still counting . . . The United States unequivocally condemns these heinous acts of terrorism. We extend our deepest condolences to the families affected and express our solidarity with the people and government of Israel in these trying times.”

Taylor then requested a moment of silence from the Council “to remember the victims of these appalling terrorist attacks.” Video posted by Taylor’s office showed representatives from member countries standing in silence.

Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism issued a statement Oct. 7 that read in part: “I am aghast at the scale of the onslaught by Hamas terrorists,” which later termed “the most lethal assault against Jews since the Holocaust.” Lipstadt is on leave from her post as a professor at Emory University.

Statements of support have been issued from throughout the political ranks.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, who is Jewish and in the past has spoken of relatives living in Israel, was in China as part of a bi-partisan congressional delegation also visiting South Korea and Japan. His office Oct. 7 issued a statement that said: “Senator Ossoff strongly condemns in the strongest terms

Hamas’ indiscriminate and murderous assault on our Israeli allies. This evening, he spoke with Israeli Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon to convey Georgians’ support for Israel and the Israeli people, and our outrage and grief at the murder of Israeli civilians.”

Ossoff’s fellow Georgia Democrat, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who also is pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Oct. 7 posted on :”X”: “I’m deeply saddened and alarmed by this morning’s news out of Israel. We must condemn terrorism in all its forms. Praying for the victims of this disturbing violence and that peace may prevail.”

Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, who led a state delegation to Israel in May, posted Oct. 7 on “X”: “This is an egregious act of war upon one of our nation’s greatest allies. The federal government must be swift and unequivocal: America stands with Israel and her people!”
Atlanta-area members of Georgia’s congressional delegation also issued statements.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, Democrat-7th congressional district: “I strongly condemn the unprovoked terrorist attack by Hamas against Israel, who has every right to defend herself from the violence being perpetrated against her. We mourn the lives violently cut short today. As we stand with Israel and its citizens, may we pray for peace.”

U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, Republican-6th congressional district: “Hamas extremists have killed innocent people, including children, in a coordinated and unprovoked attack on Israel. I condemn this evil and continue to support Israel’s right to protect themselves.”

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, Democrat-5th congressional district: “I’m devastated by the unfolding violence in #Israel and extend my deepest condolences to the families of those killed in this heinous attack on Israeli civilians. I remain committed to Israel’s fundamental right to defend itself.”

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, Democrat-4th congressional district, blamed Hamas and expressed sympathy for the “innocent people of Israel and Gaza” and called for dialogue. “For too long, the world has ignored the issue of a Palestinian homeland,” Johnson said. “Until this issue is resolved and justice allowed to reign, peace will continue to elude the world.”

Atlanta Jewish Times writer Jan Jaben-Eilon contributed to this report.

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