Dalit Spindel is overcome with sadness.
What was supposed to be a joyful visit to Israel to mark her father’s 75th birthday had become clouded in tragedy. A day after the nation was brutally attacked by the terrorist group Hamas, Spindel made the painful decision to return to her home in Rochester.
“Saturday I woke up to an impossible emotional conflict. Choose between remaining in Israel, and my first home of more than 30 years, or board a flight, escape the insanity, and embrace my children and husband in our Rochester home,” Spindel said. “My heart and stomach continue on this emotional roller coaster and it’s a true challenge to carry this with me each day. However, like Israel and Israelis that must be vigilant and strong, I try to remain strong myself.”
Spindel was among more than 1,000 people who had gathered for a community vigil organized at the Temple B’rith Kodesh in support of Israel. The event, attended by several public officials including Rep. Joseph Morelle, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Rochester Mayor Malik Evans, also served as a symbol of solidarity with the Israeli and Jewish people in Rochester. Speakers shared words of strength and called for unity.
“It’s understandable in moments like these that we share feelings of frustration and anger and are filled with thoughts of vengeance,” Morelle said. “The unjustifiable and indefensible acts of barbarism and brutality that began Saturday morning merit a full and unambiguous response. Those of us charged with the great responsibility of ensuring justice is meted out swiftly and with purpose will do exactly that. We will do it no matter the risk, no matter the challenges, whether it prove easy or hard. On that you have my solemn vow.”
Palestinian militant groups led by Hamas launched a large offensive against Israel on the weekend, using the Gaza strip. They forced their way through the Gaza-Israel barrier into settlements, taking hostages–the elderly, women and children–wounding and killing civilians. As of Monday evening, gunfire raged on and the death toll had crossed 1,500, including 11 Americans. It has been called the largest mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust.
“We must be clear, terror is terror. Terrorism is terrorism. There can be no false equivalency, there can be no hesitation,” said Evans. “All of us owe it to the citizens, residents of Israel and all of our people here to call out terrorism when we see it.”
Rochester’s ties with Israel and the Jewish people run deep. The area is home to Israeli immigrants and roughly 19,000 Jewish people. Spindel and her husband, for example, moved to Rochester from Haifa in 2011, and continue to be strongly linked to Israel. Rehovot, a city in central Israel has been Rochester’s sister city since 1972. It also was hit by rockets.
Each year, the Jewish Federation of Rochester, which organized the vigil, brings young Israelis through its ShinShinim cohort. An acronym for year of service, ShinShinim enables high school graduates, who defer army service for 12 months, to volunteer, engage people with Israel, build connections and share culture. The ShinShinim continues to serve as a conduit between Rochester and Israel. The 2023-24 cohort was present at the vigil and expressed their anguish over the attacks in their home country.
The Jewish Federation acted swiftly and continues to proactively support community members, particularly those with loved ones serving or have been called to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, said Dan Kinel, president. So far, $2.1 million has been raised in aid for Israel. Community members are encouraged to give.
“Thank you for standing in unity, thank you for being together,” said Meredith Dragon, CEO of the Jewish Federation, as she brought the vigil to a close. “We will need to continue to do this, to stand in unity together, solidly with Israel.”
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].