Jews lived in a beautiful bubble, thinking we were not subject to anti-Semitism. The Holocaust seemed “like it was a world away.” “We have been proven wrong,” said Dr. Henry Abramson at the Queens Jewish Center’s annual Israel Memorial and Independence Day Commemoration on Monday, May 13.

Israelis were also in a bubble, thinking the Hamas conflict could be contained. They relied too much on technology on the Gaza border, the Iron Dome missile defense, the Israel Air Force, and the IDF.

Hamas used bulldozers to knock down the border fence and drones to knock out the guard towers while simultaneously launching thousands of missiles at Israel at 6:30 a.m. on October 7, 2023.

Dr. Henry Abramson, an historian and the author of six books, spoke about lessons from history to apply to this current crisis. Dr. Abramson is also Dean of Touro University’s Lander College of Arts and Sciences and Dean and Chief Academic Officer of their Institute for Professional Studies. He spoke to more than 80 attendees.

Jews were so divided during the Roman occupation in 66-69 CE that they attacked each other and burned each other’s grain supplies because Jewish sects “wanted to be the ones in charge.” “It’s not a surprise the Rabbis suggested it was because of baseless hatred that the Second Temple was destroyed,” said Dr. Abramson.

Speaker Dr. Henry Abramson


The synagogue was a place – even during Roman times and while the Temple stood – where Jews could come together. “We have to come back and bring back those who are far away.”

Dr. Abramson credits Rabbi Amiel Hirsch, a prominent Reform rabbi who recently asked during a sermon for soul-searching as to why so many Reform Jews are in anti-Zionist groups and at anti-Israel demonstrations. “What did we do wrong? And most importantly, what should we be doing now, to instill in our youngsters the core Jewish value, without which nothing Jewish makes sense – ahavas Yisrael? Love. Concern. And responsibility for fellow Jews,” asked Rabbi Hirsch. “We have to do that as well,” said Dr. Abramson. “We should look to ourselves and say, ‘How did we get to where we are today?’”

Jews have been resilient throughout history. When Jews were spread out across Europe, Jews created a k’hilah, an organized community with taxes to support their poor.

When the Roman Empire became Christian, the Jews created the Talmud and a fixed Jewish calendar. “When we come together and when we confront our challenges, that’s when we are most creative…when we come together again, we can produce fantastic resilience.”

“As the Israelis say, ‘We don’t have another land.’ If we don’t take care of ourselves, who will?” said Dr. Abramson.

There is hope. Eighty percent of Americans support Israel versus Hamas in an April 2024 Harvard CAPS Harris Poll. Some 72% believe Israel should go into Rafah. But it doesn’t seem that way from the media, said Dr. Abramson.

“Our youth are hopelessly misguided,” said Dr. Abramson. They get their news through social media, “which tends to reinforce whatever gives you outrage.” “They see things that reinforce this, this negative and incomprehensible view of the world.” They don’t know they are advocating for wiping out the more than seven million Jews living in Israel.

Ninety-three percent of Americans, 65 and older, support Israel. “They’ve known something of the world and the wars,” said Dr. Abramson. Support for Israel goes down to just 57% of Americans, 18-24 years old.

A 1958 Israeli coin on one side showed an original Roman coin with the words “Judea is captured” in Latin. A tall Roman soldier hovers over a small, bent-over, humiliated Jewish woman.

On the other side of the Israeli coin, it reads in Latin, “Israel is liberated,” with a Jewish woman playing with her child and a Jewish farmer planting grain. “That’s how I think we should view ourselves. We are a creative people. We are a people who look to the future with hope.”

Rabbi Judah Kerbel of the Queens Jewish Center moderated the evening and quoted Rav Eliezer Melamed, calling Israel’s Memorial Day “not just about mourning but a day of recognizing that everything we have in Israel, we owe to the lives of those who fell in battle.” About 25,040 Israeli soldiers have died protecting the land.

“With all of the heartbreaking stories of the last seven months, we must remember that our soldiers are courageous and maintain strong resolve. We have to remember and celebrate what we are fighting for and hold on to our gratitude for all of the good that has come from the State of Israel.”

Rabbi Judah Kerbel saying Hallel


Jewish Liaison to Congresswoman Grace Meng, Rabbi Daniel Pollack, said, “Americans thought of the Holocaust that ‘it can never happen here. It was behind us.’ It could happen anytime, anywhere, but we have to do our hishtadlus (effort) to do our duty to fight this on all levels.”

“Lobbying in Washington, phone calls, letters, being together with our representatives and letting them know how you feel” is what is needed, said Rabbi Pollack. “We must engage with our congressional representatives, with our local officials, to let them know the Jewish community is not silent. We will not accept what is going on.”

Rabbi Yossi Mendelson of Congregation Machane Chodosh led the recital of T’hilim 130 and 142.

Rabbi Avrohom Levitt, Assistant Rabbi at Havurat Yisrael, said two Mi SheBeirachs, one for the Israeli soldiers and one for the hostages.

Rabbi Elisha Friedman of the Young Israel of Forest Hills said the prayer for the State of Israel.

Rabbi Judah Kerbel led the Maariv davening including Hallel without a brachah. The evening ended with the singing of “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Israeli refreshments were served afterward. A security guard protected the event throughout the night.

The entire video of the evening is on the Queens Jewish Center’s Facebook page and will be posted on the website of the Queens Jewish Center.

By David Schneier