In the weeks since Hamas attacked Israel and Israel declared war on the terrorist group, the conflict has proven divisive across America. But residents of Malverne and West Hempstead have come together to grieve, to commiserate and to show the strength of their support for the Jewish community.
“I’ve received I don’t know how many messages and phone calls from non-Jews expressing their concern for me, because they know I have relatives in Israel,” Rabbi Art Vernon, of Shaaray Shalom in West Hempstead, said. Vernon has a daughter and six grandchildren living in Israel, including a grandson in the Israel Defense Forces.
“We need the support, we appreciate the support, and we thank all those who have shown their support,” Vernon added.
Rabbi Caroline Sim, of Temple Am-Echad in Lynbrook, shared a similar sentiment: Check in on your Jewish loved ones. “Most of your Jewish friends are not OK,” Sim said. “Just the fact that you care is enough — knowing that we’re not alone.”
Jewish neighbors in Malverne and West Hempstead are certainly not alone. People of all ages and faiths gathered in Our Lady of Lourdes, in Malverne, last Sunday to stand with the Jewish community at home and beyond.
“Our hearts go out to Rabbi Elkodsi and her congregation,” the Rev. James Stachacz, of Our Lady of Lourdes, said of Rabbi Susan Elkodsi, of the Malverne Jewish Center, who also attended, “and all of our Jewish brothers and sisters who are suffering terribly.”
Stachacz and more than 50 people who gathered at the church also prayed for the lives of innocent Palestinian civilians, thousands of whom have died since the conflict began.
“We pray for those who are suffering,” he said. “We pray for a swift and just end to this conflict.”
Elkodsi reminded the gathering of the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
But the friends in this community are not staying silent. The Rev. David Anglada, of Grace Lutheran Church, and many of the church’s congregants joined last Sunday’s show of support. “In the beginning of the Holocaust and during the Holocaust, the interfaith community was silent,” Anglada said. “And when you’re silent, you’re complicit. But today our light is shining, because we are here to say no. No to violence.”
Several times since the attacks, Shaaray Shalom joined other places of worship — including the Malverne and Valley Stream Jewish centers and Orthodox congregations in West Hempstead — Young Israel, Anshei Shalom, Bais Torah U’Tefilah and others — to pray together and share their experiences.
“We all appreciate the opportunity to get together, number one with our fellow Jews, and number two, we appreciate the support of the non-Jews in the community who reached out to us,” Vernon said.
Bruce Blakeman, the first Jewish Nassau County executive, held a news conference on Oct. 12 pledging law enforcement support for local Jewish institutions in light of the tension. Vernon and Sim both said they had seen a significantly increased police presence at Shaaray Shalom and Temple Am-Echad since then.
Vernon said there has been an outpouring of support from non-Jewish neighbors. “It’s very reassuring that the people who are not Jewish understand our concern, understand the potential threat to us, and are going to do everything they can to make us feel comfortable and secure,” he said.