This past Monday afternoon, in front of the Kew Gardens Hills branch of the Queens Public Library, New York lawmakers and hundreds of community members joined forces to denounce Hamas’ ruthless terror attack on Israel.

A slew of major news media outlets joined my TorahAnytime camera to see how Queens proudly stands with Israel, putting aside political differences for a united voice to unequivocally support Israel’s right to live free of fear. The expansive political delegation unanimously denounced Hamas as a terrorist organization and repeatedly defended Israel’s right for a strong, swift response to the Shabbos Simchas Torah atrocities.

It is widely known that New York City and its immediate surrounding communities proudly boast the largest Jewish population outside of Israel – over two million Jews. The elected officials, most of whom are not Jewish, stood shoulder to shoulder alongside troubled constituents, appalled at the horrors of death and devastation reported from the Holy Land.

Those gathered swapped stories about their fears of loved ones who suffered at the savagery of Hamas. Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, the event co-sponsor who was set to join a JCRC-NY delegation to Israel in just a few weeks, wasted no time in labeling the attack for what it was. “Let’s be clear: This was terrorism, plain and simple,” he stated firmly. Richards spoke with obvious pain as he continued, “The hostages, the babies, innocent children, this is something nobody has seen or known about since the Holocaust.” Richards, who is erecting a Holocaust memorial at Queens Borough Hall, noted, “We are clear in Queens and in New York City that Israel will have the right to exist, and we will fight to make sure we preserve that.”

The electeds spoke of the lives of innocent families shattered, and the heinous acts of taking elderly women and children hostage. However, the event became tangible when Tsach Saar, Deputy and Acting Consul General of Israel in New York, declared vengeance for the “massacre,” stating that the day of the attack was “the deadliest day of the history of the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” echoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This is an unprecedented act that will be responded to with an unprecedented response in order to make sure that these atrocities will never return.” Saar skipped prepared remarks and instead spoke from a shattered heart. “I’ll speak from my heart. From my broken heart. Because my homeland is burning. My homeland is bleeding. And my homeland is one of the closest allies of the United States.”

“There is a responsibility that we all have to stamp this out. Collectively, Hamas cannot continue. Each and every place where they are hiding weapons and munitions must be destroyed,” stated Rep. Gregory Meeks, the ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee. Meeks will be a powerful player in ensuring that America provides Israel with the resources necessary to defeat Hamas. Meeks, who stood side-by-side with Rep. Grace Meng, called for bipartisanship on this matter in their severely split chamber. “We will not tolerate politicizing the protection of the people of Israel,” was the ultimate promise of support from Meng, who was joined on the podium by her Jewish liaison Rabbi Daniel Pollack. “I think it’s worth saying that it is important that we understand there is no time or space for politics right now. From the left to the right, anywhere in between, to the extremes, there is no time for politics.” Meng who visited area synagogues on Simchas Torah, revealed that she was the one who told many of the outbreak of violence and stood ready to pass pro-Israel legislation later in the week.

Speakers voiced frustration at a DSA Manhattan public demonstration the day prior from which anti-Semitism spewed from its attendees. Those gathered at the library were deeply troubled that a horrific celebration of death that has claimed over 1,200 Jewish lives had taken place in New York.

The hastily formed vigil in the heart of Queens’ Jewish community was the brainchild of Michael Nussbaum, president of the Queens Jewish Community Council, who spoke with tears in his eyes as he described the sheer ruthlessness of the attacks, likening the events to those of 9/11 as the scale of the well-planned massacre became apparent. “You can’t do what they did overnight. They can’t do what they did in a couple of weeks.” His voice was thick with emotion throughout, and Richards quietly supported Nussbaum with a hand on his shoulder. Richards time and again opened his arms in support for those weakened by emotions. On arrival, his first act was embracing my very arms.

Noam Gilboord, Interim CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, passionately spoke of his immediate family living in Israel, showcasing one of the rawest emotions. New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams noted, “Yes, we remember the victims who have been killed, injured, and harmed. And we indeed pray together for the safety of Israelis and Palestinians. We pray for peace for all because everyone deserves to live with dignity and security. We stand with you today.” Local Council Member James F. Gennaro and his counterpart Lynn Schulman of Forest Hills, the only member of the Jewish caucus in the City Council from Queens, both delivered fiery remarks as they represented their colleagues present. They were joined by colleagues Selvena Brooks-Powers, Linda Lee, and Sandra Ung.

State Senator Toby Stavisky, speaking on behalf of fellow Senator Leroy Comrie and John Liu, also defended Israel. Queens’ Jewish District Attorney, Melinda Katz, was another speaker who delivered heartfelt points, calling the issue of support for Israel “apolitical,” noting, “This is about the fact that we deserve, in Israel, the right to defend ourselves, and make sure that the world hears us loud and clear.”

The week prior, the Jewish community had rejoiced at the very intersection of the vigil at a splendid Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah with Avi Peretz. “We’ve been in front of this library in this neighborhood, standing up for Israel so many times,” said Katz. “There’s going to come a day when we don’t have to gather here, that the world knows that Israel has a right to defend itself.”

Michael Nussbaum, president of the Queens Jewish Community Council, began his speech by acknowledging the magnitude of the tragedy, equating the event to Israel’s equivalent of 9/11.

Newly appointed State Assemblymember Samuel Berger, whose parents David and Paula were in the audience, spoke directly to his Israeli family members: “To my family there, fighting now, be safe.” His colleague Nily Rozic, an Israeli national who concluded her remarks in Ivrit, observed, “My family [and] my friends in Israel have been terrorized and traumatized. I have been traumatized. So many of my cousins [and] my family members have been fighting to keep everyone safe.”

Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky of the Chabad of Northeast Queens represented over 20 centers under his command. The rabbi spoke with a fever that brought me to tears as I stood beside his longtime followers Ted and Linda Spiegel of the Margaret Tietz Rehab Center. “The utter savagery, the barbarity, the cruelty, the diabolical evil that was unleashed against innocent civilians – men, women, and children – in their homes, on the holiest day is something that is beyond.” He drew attention when he stated, “This is not about Israel and Hamas. This is about good and evil. This is about light against darkness.”

Feelings of anger, grief, and solidarity were shown by the spirits of community residents, who held Israeli flags and “I Stand with Israel” signage provided by the ADL and Shraga Teichman, a QJCC Board Member.

Together with my QBSP-Shmira members, I joined Assistant Chief Kevin Williams, Commanding Officer of NYPD Queens South, and Deputy Inspector Kevin Chan, Commanding Officer of the 107th police precinct, to provide crowd control.

 By Shabsie Saphirstein