ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 150

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'We will sing words of peace & hope, even if they seem empty'

On Long Island, Jews put communal squabbles aside to ‘light up this darkness together’

The suburban region’s Jewish denominations, often at odds with each other, unite to mourn the over 1,300 Israelis murdered in last weekend’s Hamas massacres

Reporter at The Times of Israel

  • Candlelight Vigil for Israel at East Northport Jewish Center on Long Island, New York, October 12, 2023 (Wayne Rivera/Church Unleashed)
    Candlelight Vigil for Israel at East Northport Jewish Center on Long Island, New York, October 12, 2023 (Wayne Rivera/Church Unleashed)
  • Candlelight Vigil for Israel at East Northport Jewish Center on Long Island, New York, Oct. 12, 2023 (Wayne Rivera/Church Unleashed)
    Candlelight Vigil for Israel at East Northport Jewish Center on Long Island, New York, Oct. 12, 2023 (Wayne Rivera/Church Unleashed)
  • Candlelight Vigil for Israel at East Northport Jewish Center on Long Island, New York, Oct. 12, 2023 (Wayne Rivera/Church Unleashed)
    Candlelight Vigil for Israel at East Northport Jewish Center on Long Island, New York, Oct. 12, 2023 (Wayne Rivera/Church Unleashed)
  • Candlelight Vigil for Israel at East Northport Jewish Center on Long Island, New York, Oct. 12, 2023 (Wayne Rivera/Church Unleashed)
    Candlelight Vigil for Israel at East Northport Jewish Center on Long Island, New York, Oct. 12, 2023 (Wayne Rivera/Church Unleashed)

EAST NORTHPORT, NEW YORK — As Governor Kathy Hochul directed public colleges in New York to offer additional security for Jewish students this Shabbat, the state’s Jews concluded a week of large rallies and intimate vigils in support of the Jewish state at war.

At East Northport Jewish Center, about an hour’s drive from New York City, supporters of Israel gathered Thursday evening to mourn the 1,500 Israelis who were murdered in last weekend’s Hamas assault.

“People have asked me why I am singing songs of peace tonight at our candlelight vigil,” said cantor Steven Walvick of East Northport Jewish Center, the conservative synagogue that hosted the vigil on a chilly fall evening.

“As I stand before you tonight, I am filled with anguish, with pain, and yes, with rage,” said Walvick, who stood at a podium wearing his tallit prayer shawl.

“Rage against such senseless violence. But for tonight, at least for tonight, we will attempt to quiet that rage and sing words of peace and hope, even if they seem empty,” said Walvick.

The instinct to rally is understandable, Walvick told The Times of Israel, but the cantor said he wanted to do something different for his congregation and Israel supporters.

Cantor Steven Walvick of East Northport Jewish Center, on Long Island, New York, at a candlelight vigil for Israel, Oct. 12, 2023 (Wayne Rivera/Church Unleashed)

Attended by some 100 people, including elected officials and Israel supporters from Catholic Charities of Long Island, the gathering included songs of peace and moments of grieving during which community members comforted each other. Attendees exchanged information about Israeli victims within their circles.

“[We will sing these words] even if they taste like ash in our mouths. For tonight, at least, we will stand together, and we will join our voices,” said Walvick.

Home to about 280,000 Jews, Long Island has strong networks of Chabad Houses and Young Israel congregations. Many conservative synagogues have been sold or converted in recent years, and a number of shuls have merged with each other to survive.

Candlelight Vigil for Israel at East Northport Jewish Center on Long Island, New York, Oct. 12, 2023 (Wayne Rivera/Church Unleashed)

Earlier in the week, Long Island’s two Jewish Community Centers — one in each county — held rallies in support of Israel. The pro-Israel gatherings were attended by hundreds of participants, many still absorbing the extent of last week’s surprise attacks.

In Nassau County, 6,000 supporters of Israel attended a rally organized by Chabad at Eisenhower Park on Tuesday night. In the city, Jewish groups “put political conversations aside” to share their grief at gatherings across the five boroughs.

At Thursday’s East Northport vigil, members of Catholic Charities of Long Island crossed themselves after getting out of their cars to join the gathering. The participants brought medical supplies and other donations for Israel, while students sold bracelets to raise money for the Jewish state at war.

Candlelight Vigil for Israel at East Northport Jewish Center on Long Island, New York, Oct. 12, 2023 (Wayne Rivera/Church Unleashed)

Long Island’s Jewish community is notably diverse, although some say the denominations are not adept at having dialogue with each other — or sometimes within themselves — when it comes to “sensitive issues,” as described by Haaretz.

Despite the island’s overall shrinking Jewish population, levels of Jewish affiliation and synagogue membership have stopped their decline in recent years, while some parts of the region saw significant growth, most of them relatively close to the city or within Brooklyn, where many ultra-Orthodox Jews live.

“The world has changed. And we are going to be part of the change for the better,” Long Island’s head Chabad Rabbi Mendel Teldon said in a statement.

Candlelight Vigil for Israel at East Northport Jewish Center on Long Island, New York, Oct. 12, 2023 (Wayne Rivera/Church Unleashed)

Teldon oversees 30 centers for Jewish life and will lead a series of “inspiring talks about Kabbalah and self-improvement,” beginning Sunday at the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center, he said.

“We will add light and goodness to the world,” said Teldon. “Since the very beginning, the purpose of Kabbalah has been to shine light into the darkness. Let’s light up this darkness together,” he said.

As of publication, no group has publicized any Israel rallies or vigils to be held this weekend on Long Island.

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