BY MOSHE HILL COMMUNITY CORNER DECEMBER 20 2023
Photo credit: David Kirschner – West Hempstead Echo
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, a crowd of over 300 people gathered at West Hempstead’s Halls Pond in support of Israel and to stand against hate. The rally was a call of solidarity from the wider West Hempstead Community, not just the Jewish members, after a series of hate crimes in the community that left cars vandalized, a menorah destroyed, and people harassed on the streets.
I had the privilege of being included in the planning of this rally, but the driving force behind it was Debbie Ginsberg. Debbie saw what happened to the menorah outside of the house of Rabbi Lieberman, the rav of the Chabad of West Hempstead, and said enough is enough. Through her tireless efforts, she secured the permit for the park, the showmobile for the stage, the attendance of faith leaders from most of the synagogues and churches in the neighborhood, the stirring music that bookended the rally, and the political leaders who stand strong with the Jewish community.
Working with Debbie was Scott Feltman from One Israel Fund, which was the official sponsor of the rally. Scott is the Executive Vice President of an organization that is “committed to the safety and wellbeing of the 500,000+ residents of Judea and Samaria – our Biblical Heartland.” One Israel Fund has literally been on the frontline of solidarity with Israel and her supporters since 1994, and their invaluable assistance with getting this rally underway was appreciated by the whole community.
After a stirring rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and HaTikvah by West Hempstead Resident Leib Muchnick and Shaaray Shalom’s Cantor Rosner, respectively, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman welcomed the crowd and continued his vocal and ardent support of Israel and the Jewish community in Nassau County. His message was one of denouncing moral equivalency at every level.
“We have a leader, just a mile and a half away from here at Hofstra University, who drew that moral equivalency,” Blakeman said, “I’ve called for her resignation. There is no equivalency between what is seen as a disputed territorial border, and the murder and the beheading of babies, of burning babies in ovens, the kidnapping of children, the rape of women in front of their families. There is no moral equivalency, and we must stand up!”
Rabbi Goller of the Young Israel of West Hempstead followed the County Executive with an incredible speech about what truly united us: our tears. Rabbi Soniker of Anshei Shalom spoke of standing with the families of the victims of terror, followed by a verse of T’hilim, which Rabbi Vernon of Shaaray Shalom said in English.
In the show of solidarity, Father Tony Stanganelli of St. Thomas Apostle Church of West Hempstead and Pastor Ray Lorthior of Trinity Lutheran Church of West Hempstead showed support for the Jewish community, something they have been doing within their congregations and publicly. For years, Trinity Lutheran has displayed messages of support for the Jewish community on the bulletin board outside the church, usually on Jewish holidays. After October 7, the message he displayed went viral, and Pastor Ray received calls of appreciation from Jews around the country, and even from Israel.
Rabbi Yossi Lieberman, of the Chabad of West Hempstead, closed out the speeches from the faith leaders with some wisdom from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. “It is clear to all that this is a war against evil,” said Rabbi Lieberman, “and we are called upon to participate in the spiritual battle against evil with acts of goodness and kindness.”
I had the privilege to follow Rabbi Lieberman, emphasizing the need for education in the face of the ignorance and lies that pervade social media and college campuses regarding these issues. As if I had planned it, while I was talking about ignorance of the issues, a car drove by behind the rally, honking its horn, shouting and waving a small Palestinian flag. Someone told me afterwards that the person was wearing a Spider-Man mask. I should have added cowardice to my charges against our enemies.
Scott Feltman spoke about the media, and how the lies of Hamas are being spread without verification. “Every news outlet here [in America] will say “18,000 killed,” and the ones that are trustworthy will say, ‘as reported by the Gaza Health Ministry,’ which is under Hamas,” he said, “but the number 18,000 will sit with everyone. Trust me, 18,000 women and children weren’t killed by the IDF over the last two months.” Feltman urged the crowd to seek out Israeli news outlets, which is closer to the action and doing a more thorough reporting job of what is happening, as opposed to the myriad of filters that the news goes through before reaching the public in America.
Following Scott was Rachel Pill, LMSW, Board Member of One Israel Fund, discussing the mental trauma that the Jewish people, as a nation, endured after October 7. “Fear and anxiety are our enemies,” she said. She spoke about how people are afraid to take a subway with a yarmulka on or a Jewish star necklace, how people are asking if they should remove their mezuzahs. She said that not only should people not do that, but we should give each other strength to carry on. “We have a role here; we have to stop being afraid.”
Closing out the speakers was County Legislator Bill Gaylor and Assemblyman Ed Ra. Gaylor was recently redistricted into West Hempstead and has been a friend of the Jewish community there for the entirety of his time in the County Legislature. Ra is the ranking member of the powerful Assembly Ways & Means Committee up in Albany, and has been a stalwart ally of the Jewish community in his 12+ years of public service.
Leib Muchnick rounded out the program with singing of “The Impossible Dream.” The show of solidarity and support from the West Hempstead residents, regardless of faith or religious adherence, was overwhelmingly positive and heartwarming. West Hempstead continues to be a strong, thriving, and growing Jewish community, and with the support of our leaders, both religious and elected, it will remain so.