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Heschel Steers Senior Class to Pro-Israel Activism in Response to Hamas Attack

It’s been weeks since Hamas’ attack, yet 240 Israelis remain captive in Gaza today. Given the creeping advance of a ground invasion, many experts forecast a protracted war. 

Generally, those with little connection to a foreign conflict feel alienated, especially as war progresses. For Jews in the diaspora, however, Israel may warrant increased concern, as the global perception of the only Jewish state directly affects Jewry around the world. According to a report by the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents of harassment, vandalism, and assault in the U.S. have increased by 388% since Oct. 7, as clips of Israel’s response in Gaza began to inundate the internet.

Yet it’s easy for American Jews–the majority of whom are secular and politically progressive–to feel disconnected from an affair over 5,000 miles away. Even those who care deeply about the Israeli-Hamas war are often resigned to inaction by a crippling perception that they can’t contribute from afar. However, according to many in the Jewish community, public support is essential for Israel, especially as the international media, which tends to sympathize with the Palestinian cause, holds significant sway in shaping public opinion and thus Israel policy.

Since the attack, the Heschel high school has done a great deal to support Israel and condemn Hamas. To ensure that the senior class stays engaged, the administration arranged for them to attend pro-Israel demonstrations at the United Nations (U.N.) and New York University (NYU).

On Oct. 24, the seniors gathered at the U.N. to welcome the parents of captive Hersh Goldberg before they addressed the General Assembly.

“The motivation of this rally is to show our support to these families and to make sure that the world does not forget the over two-hundred hostages who are still being held captive,” wrote head of high school Rabbi Noam in a grade-wide email before the event.

Senior Hunter Bernhardt, who could be seen at the rally draped in an Israeli flag, found the demonstration highly impactful.

“We were told to chant only ‘bring them home,’” he said. “We weren’t supposed to sing; it wasn’t the most exciting rally I’ve been to, but I feel like we had an agenda and really made an impact.”

Two days later, Heschel seniors received another email from Rabbi Noam informing them that they would leave for a pro-Israel rally at Washington Square Park that day. According to Rabbi Noam, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the Executive Director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, reached out to elicit Heschel’s support.

“I am asking you to amplify this message to all people of sound moral conscience,” wrote Rabbi Sarna in a statement directed to Rabbi Noam. “Please gather in solidarity with our students to demand no sympathy here for Hamas.”

Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the event.

“As a Democrat and as a progressive, it’s important that we set the record straight: not only do we support the state of Israel, we oppose Hamas terror,” he said. 

Dov Yonah Korn, a Rabbi at NYU, also participated in the demonstration.

“We will not stand quiet while terrorism is being supported by students on campus,” he said. “There’s a very fine line between supporting a variety of voices in NYU and supporting terror.”

Most Heschel students found this rally more dynamic and emotionally provocative than the demonstration at the U.N.

“As an Israeli in the U.S., I sometimes feel like there’s not much I can do for my country,” senior Roy Mendelson said. “But this rally felt powerful. I felt powerful.”

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