By Stacey DresnerIn late July, as Hamas missiles continued to fly into Israel and Operation Protective Edge succeeded in taking out terrorist tunnels into Israel, Jewish communities around Massachusetts showed their undying support for Israel through solidarity missions to Israel and several pro-Israel rallies held around the state.
But as Jewish communities rallied around Israel, several anti-Israel incidents in Western and Central Massachusetts were a cause for concern.
Last week at Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton, someone burned an Israeli flag that was attached to a flagpole in front of the synagogue. According to police, only a small portion of the flag was burned. At press time, the incident is being considered a case of vandalism, not a hate crime.
Rabbi Justin David sent his congregation an email message last week:
By now, you may have heard or seen that an attempt was made to burn our Israeli flag. The damage was minimal, another flag is being ordered, but the incident is disturbing.
We fly our flags as symbols and reminders of our relationships both to American society and the State of Israel. Such relationships comprise an array of feelings and positions, and they are relationships that evoke both a sense of pride and obligation.
Certainly, there are those in our community – in our synagogue community as well as Northampton generally – who are critical of Israel’s war in Gaza. But while people are entitled to their opinions and welcome to express them, there is no excuse for committing damage to property. Critique is legitimate. Vandalism is criminal.”
Rabbi David added that there will now be additional police presence and surveillance on the building.
“We pray for peace in our community, in Israel, and for all humanity. May we see each other soon in a time of meaningful prayer, reflection and celebration,” he said.
Northampton has become a center for anti-Israel sentiment over the past few weeks. On July 18, a group called the Western Massachusetts Coalition for Palestine, rallied against Israel, accusing Israel of genocide and ethnic cleansing and calling Israel an apartheid state. Several smaller protests against Israel continue to be held in the town.
Members of the Western Massachusetts Jewish community conducted a counter protest in Northampton in late July with 25 people. Rabbi Tuvia Helfen of Chabad of Northampton helped some people to lay tefillin, while Amy Mager, who lives in Springfield and works in Northampton, chose to read Tehillim and pray for peace. “Being a Jew, I felt it was important to support all communities and build as many bridges as possible. One of my six kids and my husband and I went up and people were yelling at us,” she said. “It is one thing to support Gaza, but it is another thing to say, ‘Kill the Jews.’” They were saying ‘Death to Israel,’ People are not thinking and are just being passionate and not thinking of the potential outcome of the things that come out of their mouth…I wish every person who is calling for a boycott of Israel [could be asked] Really? Are you willing to give up the products that you would have to give up to boycott Israel?”
Countering the anti-Israel sentiment, the Jewish communities in both Western and Central Massachusetts held pro-Israel rallies in recent weeks:
– The Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts hosted an Israel Solidarity rally on Thursday, July 24 at the Springfield JCC, partnering with local synagogues and agencies. Deputy Consul General Ronit Nudelman-Perl spoke at the rally, providing an update on developments in Israel and Operation Protective Edge. Other speakers included Jewish Federation President Susan Weiss Firestone and Rabbis Mark Shapiro, Max Davis and Amy Katz.– Nudelman-Perl also spoke at a pro-Israel rally held in Worcester on July 29. Speakers also included Ann Pava, JFNA National Women’s Campaign chair, and Toby Richmond, JFCM Women’s Campaign chair. Rabbi Aviva Fellman of Congregation Beth Israel led a memorial service for the Israeli soldiers who lost their lives. – Members of the Central Massachusetts Jewish community attended a pro-Israel rally in Chestnut Hill on July 17 at Congregation Mishkan Tefila, in support of Israel and in memory of those who were killed during the conflict.
– A group from Central Mass. attended a rally to “Stop Terrorism. Stop Hamas” held on Aug. 7 at City Hall Plaza in Boston.