Lehigh Valley stands with Israel at virtual vigil

By Stephanie Goodling
HAKOL Editor

After 11 days of active conflict between Israel and Hamas and on the eve of a ceasefire on May 20, the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley hosted a virtual vigil to gather in prayer and solidarity for Israel. The Lehigh Valley Jewish Clergy Group and local leaders joined together in the auditorium of the Jewish Community Center of the Lehigh Valley to broadcast the program live via YouTube.

Federation President Gary Fromer introduced the evening.

“We have an unequivocal obligation to support in any way we can our brothers and sisters in Israel and the safety and future of our sons and daughters there,” he said.

The Acting Consul General of Israel in New York, Israel Nitzan, gave a pre-recorded message, acknowledging Israel’s right and obligation to defend its citizens and thanking the bipartisan leadership of the United States for its support and encouragement during this difficult time. 

“I also thank the community of Lehigh Valley and the Jewish Federation for their steadfast support of the State of Israel,” said Nitzan.

Rabbi Steve Nathan, chair of the clergy group, gave a statement on their behalf:  “We stand in unequivocal support of Israel in its defense of its citizens and pray for a day when peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a reality and no one must again mourn the loss of innocent lives.”

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey also gave a recorded message.

“The United States stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel,” said Toomey. “Peace in the Middle East is not just some pipe dream ... The path to Middle East peace is there.”

The Lehigh Valley’s Rep. Susan Wild also sent a message, saying, “My heart is with any of you who have family or friends in Israel. Let me say my heart is also with those members of our Lehigh Valley community who are not Jewish but who have family in Gaza or the West Bank. I continue to believe that the only path forward to end this suffering is a two-state solution that ensures peace, safety and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike, and I reaffirm my commitment to working toward that solution.”

Hana Bachar, co-chair of the Partnership2Gether committee, sent a greeting from the Lehigh Valley’s partnership region in Yoav, Israel. 

“Thank God, in Yoav, we are OK. Thank you for all your love and all your support. It means a lot to us. We pray for quiet and peaceful days,” said Bachar.

Then Gavriel Siman-Tov, the Lehigh Valley’s community shaliach from Israel, spoke on what it has been like to experience the attacks on Israel from across the ocean.

“My home hurts and catches on fire, and I'm on the other side of the world. I grew up in Israel, and in all my life, in every war, every operation, I was home, and never once did I feel this feeling, that crazy need to be glued to the news, to be updated on everything to know that my family is safe, that my friends are safe, that everyone is safe.” 

Siman-Tov explained that he was to be home to visit his family in Israel for the first time in eight months, but the airlines were afraid to fly into Israel because of the thousands of rockets that had been launched there over the past 11 days. 

“It hurts and I'm tired ... I’m tired of my home becoming a meme on social media ... It hurts that the following sentence feels so true:  If the Palestinians will drop their weapons, there will be no more war, but if Israel drops their weapons, there will be no more Israel,” added Siman-Tov.

Rabbi Allen Juda and Rabbi Michael Singer of Congregation Brith Sholom, Rabbi Moshe Re’em of Temple Beth El, Rabbi Seth Phillips of Congregation Keneseth Israel, Rabbi Melody Davis of Congregation Bnai Shalom, Rabbi Yaakov Halperin of Chabad of the Lehigh Valley, and Rabbi Nisan Andrews of Congregation Sons of Israel all took their turn to offer prayers for peace and for the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces. 

Federation Executive Director Jeri Zimmerman closed the evening with a statement before the playing of “Hatikvah.”

“We in the Lehigh Valley are proud to stand with Israel,” Zimmerman said. “As our gathering draws to a close, I want to leave you with three action items for your strong consideration even in light of tonight's talk of ceasefire:  Number one, please reach out to family and friends in Israel so they know they are not isolated. Number two, stay in touch with our elected officials, whether to thank them or to encourage their support. And please give generously to our Stand with Israel emergency campaign. It will help to mitigate much of the much-needed crisis support in Israel as a result of the torrent of rockets over these past 11 days. One-hundred percent of your donation will go toward this effort.”

To view the vigil in its entirety, click here.