DENVER — More than a thousand people gathered for a community vigil at Temple Emanuel in Denver Monday evening to "Pray for Peace in Israel."
Israeli officials say at least 900 people have been killed, including at least 11 Americans, amid the war between Israel and Hamas.
Israel’s defense minister has ordered a “complete siege” on the Gaza Strip following an unprecedented incursion into Israel by Hamas fighters. Israel formally declared war on Sunday and gave the green light for “significant military steps” to retaliate against Hamas for Saturday’s surprise attack.
In Gaza, authorities say more than 600 people have been killed and thousands more hurt, with dozens of Israelis taken hostage.
People poured into the temple Monday, with some wrapped in the flag of Israel. The emotional toll of the past few days was palpable.
“When we woke up on Saturday morning, to hear the news of what had happened in our holy land, it was like we were being torn apart in three different directions," said Senior Cantor Elizabeth Sacks, who is also the CEO of Temple Emanuel. “Unfortunately, this is not a problem that is far away or across the ocean. Everyone in our community knows someone who knows someone who lives in Israel. Many of us know people who are fighting for the State of Israel right now. And some of us, unfortunately, know people who have been wounded and killed and taken captive in Israel.”
Dr. Dan Leshem, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council at JEWISHcolorado, grew up in an Israeli household.
“Being Jewish has a lot of connections to my identity at various points," said Leshem. “As someone who feels connected to Israel, we have seen battles and skirmishes happen numerous times in the past."
The Hamas attack feels different for Leshem and the rest of the community who gathered at Temple Emanuel Monday.
“The Jewish community here, and the Israeli community here, is watching all of this gruesome brutality over and over, and video after video. So, I liken it to how I felt on the morning of September 11," Leshem explained. "They are feeling terrorized on an individual level, and scared for their own life in a way that I haven't seen them before, and scared for their country. And that reverberates back to us American Jews, because we're used to seeing them be the one saying, 'It's not that serious. We'll be fine.' And that's not the message we're getting this time.”
Leshem said most of the people he has spoken with in the past few days are having to actively remember to eat and sleep. Many are living in sadness and fear.
“It's just almost impossible to rest. Because we feel like it would almost be unethical of us to rest while our brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles don't have that freedom right now," said Leshem.
Leshem called the Israel-Palestine complex one of the greatest historical tragedies that the world has confronted.
“There have been countless victims on both sides. I feel like they're both caught in a cycle of violence and reprisals, where it's very difficult for anyone to be a very rational actor, because we're dealing with really powerful emotions of safety and security, home," said Leshem. “There will be other days, and other instances where our hearts and our energies will go to talking about and making sure people know about the suffering of people in other situations. Today, we're with our people.”
Sacks said one of the ways to help the Jewish community feel supported is through gatherings like the "Pray for Peace in Israel" vigil, which she believes shows that people care.
“We need everyone's prayers. We need everyone's focus and hope that this event comes to a swift and safe conclusion so that we can have peace in our holy land again," said Sacks.
JEWISHcolorado has established a fundraiser to support on-the-ground efforts in Israel. The fundraiser claims the money raised will go towards "aiding victims of terror, addressing trauma issues, and assisting with emergency medical and infrastructure needs." A group of JEWISHcolorado donors said they will match up to $200,000.