‘One people, one voice,’ Greater Phoenix Jewish community gathers to support Israel

By: - October 12, 2023 10:32 am

More than 3,000 people gathered together for “Am Echad, Kol Echad: One People, One Voice, A Gathering of Prayer, Support and Hope” on Oct. 9, 2023, in Scottsdale. Photo courtesy of Gregory Cohen via Jewish News

On Monday evening, Oct. 9, the grief was palpable as more than 3,000 members of the Greater Phoenix Jewish community, and its allies, gathered for a solidarity event for Israel on the field at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale.

View a video recording of the gathering here.

This story first appeared in the Jewish News, which is published by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, a component of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy of Greater Phoenix. It is republished here with permission.

“There aren’t any words for this,” said attendee Holly Birnel. She questioned how the terrorists could commit such atrocities, especially gunning down revelers at the Supernova music festival, where more than 250 people died.

“I am broken for Israel. I lived in Israel and have friends and family there,” said Shaun Kirsh. “I’m afraid for the whole world.”

Many people expressed that they needed to gather and be with the Jewish community at this time.

“We have to support our Jewish brethren,” said Brina Pepper. “We have to stand up for humanity.” Her friend Linda Leebove added, “We are a huge country filled with Jews. Every one of us either has family there or knows someone there.”

Josh Lustbader, grandson of Holocaust survivors, said he attended the event because, “Israel is our homeland.”

Israeli Oren Tabib, chairman of Shevet Shemesh-Israeli Scouts of Arizona, wearing a half-American, half-Israeli flag draped over his shoulders, said that the significance of the attack on Israel will change his life forever. Getting emotional, he said, “It’s devastating what happened … to think the Jewish community is here, united … Israelis feel the need to have our voices heard, to take to the streets.”

Anna Kessler, whose husband is Israeli, said, “Our hearts are with Israel, even though we can’t physically be there.”

Jews weren’t the only ones attending the rally. Sister Mary Anne and Sister Elisa from Canaan in the Desert, the American branch of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Germany, came “to find a way to bring healing” and shared that “our hearts are broken with our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

The start of the event was delayed as the huge crowd made its way through metal detectors as they entered the field. People, many carrying Israeli flags, or wearing them, were handed candles by volunteers. The organizers of “Am Echad, Kol Echad: One People, One Voice, A Gathering of Prayer, Support and Hope” included the Center for Jewish Philanthropy of Greater Phoenix (CJP), Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix (JCRC), Anti-Defamation League Arizona (ADL) and Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center (VOSJCC).

Rabbi Jeremy Schneider, spiritual leader of Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale and the president of the Board of Rabbis, opened the event echoing the sentiment of many attendees: “there are no words.” He went on to say that although there were no words to express what we are all feeling, there are words to express support, hope, commitment and resolve.

“Tonight, our intention is to stand in solidarity and to hold the pain, to hold the hurt, to hold the justifiable anger and to hold the grief,” he said. “It weighs just a little bit less when we know we are doing it here together.”

Cantor Ross Wolman from Temple Chai in Phoenix then took the stage to share a song inspired by words from a victim of a violent incident that occurred in the West Bank in 2000.

Temple Chai Senior Rabbi Emily Segal and Temple Solel Associate Rabbi Debbie Stiel both shared prayers for Israel and its people. Rev. Katie Sexton-Wood, executive director of Arizona Faith Network, said, “I stand here tonight as an ally representing numerous faith traditions throughout Arizona to remind you, you are not alone.” Then she offered a prayer in her faith, the Christian Church Disciples of Christ.

Ronny Urman, president of the board of directors, Friends of Israel Scouts, Inc., shared his shock and despair and that this attack on Israel “will leave a lasting scar on our souls.” He encouraged people to introduce themselves to the stranger next to them and “not take this moment for granted as we never know what tomorrow will bring.”

Urman then introduced Jonathan Drori, who moved to Scottsdale four years ago with his family after living in a kibbutz near the Gaza Envelope. This area has been under constant artillery and land strike attempts since 2001.

Drori explained that most kibbutzim have a “quick reaction force” of men and women trained to defend themselves in the event of an attack until the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) can arrive, usually within an hour. He said that during the Hamas onslaught, the IDF didn’t arrive for almost 24 hours.

“I’m extremely grateful for the fact my kids didn’t have to go through this attack the way my family and friends did,” he said. He said that people in his kibbutz only sustained injuries but residents in the village his cousin lives in did not fare as well.

He said that many people had locking mechanisms on their doors to ensure safety and when the terrorists could not breach the door, they lit the home on fire to force the people out.

“Those who escaped their burning house were slaughtered in the street or taken hostage,” said Drori. “One of my family members was murdered and two others have been rescued by the IDF.” Also, three close friends lost their lives protecting their community and many of his friends are still missing.

Following Drori, Rabbi Pinchas Allouche of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, shared a text he received from his 20-year-old son, Yisrael Mordechai Chaim, a sniper and paratrooper in the IDF. His text said: “I’m on my way to the frontlines, Abba and mommy. I just wanted to let you know. I love you and I miss you guys so much. Keep up the good work and never stop.”

On Monday morning, Allouche received a call from his son and although he sounded exhausted, his spirits were high. He couldn’t share with his parents exactly what he was doing on his mission, but described villages in ruin, the smell of death in the air and bodies everywhere.

Then Allouche said his son shared a quote with him, “Sight is seen with the eyes, vision is seen with the mind. My sight did encounter some horrible sights, but I want you to know that my vision is crystal clear. In that vision, I see Am Yisrael Chai; in that vision, I see us winning; in that vision, I see goodness finally prevailing.”

Representing some of the organizations on the ground providing aid to Israel were Dr. Mel Bottner, Jewish National Fund-USA Desert States board president, and Rachel Hoffer, board chair for the CJP and board chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel — North American Council.

A son of Holocaust survivors, Bottner said, “There’s nothing more powerful in the world than a unified Jewish nation.” He also mentioned that Israelis feel this is their 9/11, but based on Israel’s population, the number of lives lost, proportionally, is much higher than the American terrorist attack.

Hoffer shared that her brother and his family are “proud Jerusalemites,” and her niece was called up to serve her country earlier that day. She also said that her husband, Jonathan, and other community members, Steve Hilton and Jason Morris, arrived in Tel Aviv that morning.

She admitted she would be holding her breath until their safe return but said, “I also know that showing up and putting our arms around our Israeli brothers and sisters is critical and makes an unparalleled impact and I’m extremely proud.”

Jonathan told her that while the gentlemen were discussing their plans for the next day, they saw a wedding in the hotel lobby, a perfect example of Israeli’s resilience, strength and hope. “We must let Israel know we are united every step of the way,” she said.

While Jerusalem native Cantor Noa Shaashua performed, Schneider, Rabbi Andy Green of Scottsdale’s Congregation Or Tzion and Rabbi Stephen Kahn of Congregation Beth Israel, also in Scottsdale, stood arm in arm off to the side of the stage gently swaying to the music.

Green shared a prayer asking God to “hold in your hand our shattered, fractured, punctured hearts, the heart of a Jewish nation, the heart of the Jewish people.”

Kahn noted that so many thousands showed up on a Monday night in Scottsdale, 10,000 miles away from the people of Israel “that our love will transcend time and space and time zones to land in their hearts.” He also invited all rabbis in attendance to come up on the stage to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish. “A pluralistic group of rabbis, maybe for the first time in my 21 years here in the Valley, together leading prayer,” he said.

After Kaddish, Wolman and Shaashua sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” and then invited the Israeli Scouts, who had also performed earlier, to sing “Hatikvah,” the national anthem of Israel.

At the conclusion of the event, Schneider said he was heartened to share a note from Governor Katie Hobbs on social media: “To the people of Israel: Arizona stands with you. Tonight, the Executive Tower is blue in solidarity. Am Yisrael Chai.”

Am Yisrael Chai. The people of Israel live.

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Mala Blomquist/Jewish News
Mala Blomquist/Jewish News

Mala Blomquist is the managing editor of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. A Valley native, she has worked as an editor for the past 25 years for niche publications in Arizona.

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