Vermont Jews Respond to Mideast Turmoil

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(Host) About 200 members of the Chittenden County Jewish community gathered Wednesday evening to express support for the Israeli government’s military actions in response to terrorist attacks. Speakers called upon Jews to set aside political disagreements and speak out against what they see as a rising tide of anti-Semitism.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Sound of music at the gathering.)

(Zind) Men wearing yarmulkes, boys in baseball caps, women and children from three major synagogues came together in what was called a Community Service of Solidarity. The occasion coincided with the fifty-fourth anniversary of Israeli statehood, but that fact was overshadowed by current events:

(Speaker) “This day should be filled with joy and happiness. Yet there is a cloud that hangs over our heads, even as we celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. The continued dream of a peaceful, healthy and prosperous Jewish country lives in each of us, yet the world still cannot accept this fact.”

(Zind) This was a meeting to talk about solidarity, not solutions. Speakers portrayed an Israel besieged by terror, beleaguered by a perceived bias in news coverage and beset by critical world opinion. Rabbi Yitzchok Raskin urged the group to find strength in their faith and stand together in support of the Israeli government:

(Raskin) “God forbid, if we don’t protect ourselves. If we followed the advice of what the world is telling us to do, there will be ten suicide killers a day, God forbid. We cannot make peace with a nation that sends its people, its children, its women to commit suicide.”

(Zind) Rabbi Joshua Chasan called the violence in the Middle East a tragedy for both Israelis and Palestinians. But Chasan says Jews should not feel despair, shame or fear:

(Chasan) “This is a moment of truth. When people of Israel are called to recognize the inherent righteousness of our being, who we are. That’s what they’re trying to take away from us. We don’t want to hurt anyone. Let’s just tell them. Please stop hurting us. Please tell others to stop hurting us. We’re not going to allow you to keep hurting us!” (Sounds of applause.)

(Zind) Chasan says he has only recently come to believe that hatred of Jews is pervasive. Chasan said anti-Semitism in Europe and America comes in the form of criticism of the Israeli government’s response to terrorist attacks.

(Chasan) “The notion that Jews are murderers is an old story. They’ve called us murderers even as they have murdered us for thousands of years.”

(Zind) Carol Heffer of South Burlington says not long ago she was sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Now she believes the Palestinian leadership isn’t interested in coexisting with Israel:

(Heffer) “They’re not talking about peace. They want us dead and that’s the bottom line. And I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way before.”

(Zind) Daniel Stein of Essex Junction said the mood among those present at the service was not one of anger, but frustration and resolve over the current situation in the Middle East:

(Stein) “We are not war lovers. We desperately want there to be a just peace. But we are done being doormats.”

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in South Burlington.

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