By Carl Zebrowski
Six hundred people filled the Allentown JCC’s Kline Auditorium to standing-room-only for the Stand with Israel Prayer Vigil on Tuesday night, October 10.
“I remember coming here 5 years ago after the Tree of Life attacks,” said Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Schlossberg in reference to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, “and while we were all in mourning, it was so gratifying to see so many people together, and not only this many Jews, but this many members of the broader community as well, and you can find comfort and solace in that.”
There was a fittingly solemn air to the gathering of the Jewish community and its supporters in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. There were many prayers. And there were passionate messages via video from our elected officials.
Here was a community coming together for a communal hug, to unite in support of one another and Israel as they mourned the losses in the terrorist attacks. They also had in mind the losses still to come as attacks continued and the Israel Defense Forces responded.
Robby Wax, president of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, which organized the event, thanked the crowd for coming. “There’s a line past security out to the street, which is overwhelming,” he said.
Community rabbis led the way for most of the evening, taking to the stage to give personal messages and say or sing prayers. Rabbi Moshe Re’em of Temple Beth El quoted renowned Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel on the perils of indifference. “For the person who is indifferent,” said Wiesel, “his or her neighbors are of no consequence and therefore their lives are meaningless.” Re’em concluded that those gathered in the auditorium were the opposite. “We are here tonight to attend this vigil because we are not indifferent,” he said. “We care and we care very deeply.”
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk and many other local officials attended the vigil. “It’s important to me that our residents that are connected to Israel know that they are supported thoroughly in the City of Allentown and that they’re cared for and they’re loved,” Tuerk said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, U.S. Rep. Susan Wild of Pennsylvania and Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania all sent videos. Wild said she initially responded to the news of the attacks with disbelief, then horror, then fear, then anger. “How dare these terrorists target civilians — young, old, middle-aged, people who couldn’t walk, didn’t matter?”
“This has touched every Jewish family in America,” she said. “Unwavering bipartisan support of Israel is absolutely essential.” She said she will focus on rounding up that support in Congress: “I promise you that.”
Fetterman spoke with fire in his voice, and his comments about Hamas and Israel’s impending response brought rounds of roaring applause from those assembled.
“I really want everyone there to understand one simple thing,” he said: “There is no daylight between our nation and Israel, and as a United States senator, I want you to understand that I will support whatever (action) is taken in order to defend Israel.”
“I’m tired of hearing that Israel has the right to defend itself,” Fetterman continued. “Of course they do. They’ve always had that. That’s inalienable.... They have the right to, and should, destroy this organization and make sure everybody understands that we will not tolerate this kind of thing.”
More loud applause.
This was a night where both sorrow for Israel’s losses and rousing calls for its response in defense had legitimate places. And listening to people in the audience and to those on the stage, there was plenty of both.
The vigil ended with the singing of “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. Everyone packed in the auditorium stood in unity.