“We need each other.”
That’s the reason David Borden, 57, of Silver Spring gave when asked why he joined 8,000 people who participated in the Washington, D.C., area Vigil for Israel at the Adas Israel congregation Tuesday evening.
The sentiment was echoed by Eliav Benjamin, the deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C., who invoked a sense of community in front of the thousands of attendees, in person and online.
“Hamas did not anticipate this would bring us all closer together,” he said, referring to the historic attack that Hamas, an Iran-backed terrorist organization, has waged on Israel, invading from the Gaza Strip and firing thousands of rockets into the region, according to news reports.
Adas Israel, located at 2850 Quebec St. NW in the Cleveland Park area of D.C., hosted the event alongside the Washington Hebrew congregation, in partnership with numerous other D.C.-area synagogues.
“There were 3,000 people there tonight, and this is all one big family,” CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington Gil Preuss told MoCo360.
The attendees could not all fit in the main sanctuary with some having to go to an overflow area in the basement to watch the livestream. Around 5,000 people watched the vigil from the livestream on Adas Israel’s website, according to Adas Israel’s Executive Director David Polonsky.
The Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, both based in North Bethesda, sponsored the event.
Other sponsors include the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, the Morningstar Foundation and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.
“I think it’s important to show support at a time like this and recognize what has happened,” Borden said. “I also am here to see what other people are saying, thinking and feeling.”
As of today, more than 1,100 Israelis have been killed, more than 3,000 wounded and over 150 are being held hostage in the war against Hamas, according to StandWithUs, an international, non-partisan education organization that supports Israel and fights antisemitism.
At least 22 Americans have been killed in Israel, according to the State Department Wednesday.
“I’m heartbroken. I’m infuriated and frustrated and beyond sick to my stomach,” Preuss said. “How can this happen? How do we live in a world where people do this to one another? Every time I watch the news, I feel more pain.”
Before the vigil, people gathered outside the synagogue and connected with those around them in deep conversations.
There was a large police presence outside the synagogue providing security, with several Metropolitan Police officers and their squad cars surrounding the area.
Eden Drillings, 22, of Washington D.C., who is the director of special projects for the Embassy of Israel to the United States, is an Israeli-American dual citizen, and her father is in Israel, so she said this war has been especially taxing on her.
“It’s awful. I’ve been working 9 a.m. to midnight every night since it started, just trying to keep my head up high,” Drillings said before the vigil. “I’ve been crying countless times, but I’m trying to distract myself with work, trying to give back to the Israeli community in any way that I can.”
Wanda Jackson, 70, of Fort Washington in Prince George’s County said that even though she is Christian, and this war in Israel may not directly impact her, she felt it was important to be at the vigil showing her support.
“I think we are family. Different ideologies and different cultures don’t always have to separate us, split us, keep us indifferent and create certain prejudices. What about love?” Jackson said. “When a brother or sister is hurt, I think it impacts all of us.”
The vigil consisted of prayers and songs from clergy from various D.C. synagogues. There were also speeches by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), leaders of Jewish organizations and the Israeli Embassy in the U.S.
“We stand together to emphatically reject terrorism in all its forms and to say with one voice that antisemitism has no place in our institutions, our country, our world, or our hearts,” Bowser said. “I want to reiterate what President [Joe] Biden has said: the world is indeed watching…and we will not turn away until there’s peace.”
As the vigil progressed, more and more people sitting in both the floor seats and balcony seats joined in with the prayers. At one point, the room filled with a deep chorus of voices singing “Am Yisrael Chai,” a prayer for Israel that means “the people in Israel live.”
After the vigil concluded, and attendees filed out, the front of the synagogue was illuminated in blue and white stripes with a dove holding an olive branch, in support of peace for Israel.
Community members can also attend “A Vigil of Jewish Unity & Solidarity with Israel” at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at Congregation Har Shalom, located at 11510 Falls Road in Potomac. Many other synagogues in Montgomery County will be represented at the event as well.
If any attendees need babysitting for children ages 5-11 during the event, then they can register online on Har Shalom’s website.
The Jewish Federation also has its Israel Crisis Relief Fund, which people can continuously send donations.
The JCRC said there are many resources available. If people are seeking information about relatives or loved ones currently in Israel, they can contact the Israeli Consulate in New York at 917-756-8387 or 212-499-5321.
Also, if anyone needs emotional support and/or mental health services, they should call the Jewish Federation and JSSA’s J-CARING hotline at 703-J-CARING.
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