GREAT BARRINGTON -- Members of the Berkshire Jewish community gathered in the interest of peace as a three-day cease-fire was holding Wednesday in war-torn Gaza and Southern Israel.
Speakers at the "Stand With Israel" event at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire hit upon a number of hot topics in a room occupied by 100 people of perhaps 300 minds concerning the pertinent issue, joked Congregation Ahavath Sholom Spiritual Leader Barbara Cohen. All wished repeatedly for a true end to the conflict.
Incoming World Union for Progressive Judaism President Rabbi Daniel Freelander called the events "more personal" than ever before as "virtually every Israeli and every American Jew knows someone who has been impacted by [Hamas-fired] rockets or has a child or a friend who’s been called up for the ground war in Gaza."
"For the first time in my memory there’s really no debate in the North American Jewish community: We cannot sit by silently as rockets continue to fall," Freelander said. "What would we do if rockets fell on Great Barrington."
Claim of "no debate" aside, a panel prior to the event found much to discuss among the audience and a multitude of viewpoints -- from strong support of Israel’s actions to sympathy for the Palestinian people.
Since the most recent fighting began, according to a United Nations report, 1,814 Palestinians have been killed, including 1,314 civilians, more than 400 of whom were children.
The same report estimates that perhaps 30 percent of Gaza’s population, more than 500,000 people, are displaced.
The United Nations reports 67 Israeli deaths -- including two civilians and one foreign national.
Freelander said Israel is forced "to respond in areas where it cannot restrict civilian casualties," decried Hamas for "pure evil and cynicism" and criticized "the shallowness of the media and how much we are prisoners to what the media chooses to feed to us."
"Even the [television] stations that tended to sympathize with Israel couldn’t get beyond their focus on the body counts, rather than on the rocket launches," Freelander said.
Noting increased sentiment against Israel in the world, particularly Europe, Freelander laid blame on the press but also Hamas, deeming the organization "a good story teller," and charging its members with conflating "anti-Israel propaganda" and "anti-Semitism."
"We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the balance of European Jewry," Freelander said.
In other events, a Berkshire native who served with the Israeli Defense Forces’ Tank Corps in Nachal as part of the "lone soldier" program also spoke.
Adam Gazit described loneliness and hardships while emphasizing the solidarity that grows up between fellow soldiers and the hospitality offered by the people of Israel.
"As we just heard, we are a diverse group, with a range of perspectives on our people’s homeland, this war and the prospects for peace," Rabbi David Weiner of Congregation Knewsset Israel said. "Sometimes we disagree with not only how we ought to respond to what is happening in Israel, but even over the very words we use to describe the situation. Too much is at stake and the world has too much to lose if we hold our tongues out of concern that we might offend each other.
"We share our hopes that the cease-fire will hold, that children in Israel, in Gaza, and throughout the world will no longer be forced to live in fear," he added.
To reach Phil Demers:
or (413) 281-2859.
On Twitter: @BE_PhilD