For Lisa Steindel, the fighting in Gaza is more than a political debate. It’s very personal, indeed.
“My son, Avi, 24, a veteran of the Israeli army is there right now,” said Steindel, executive director of the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee, “and my daughter, Sheri Friedman, is leaving for Israel this week with her Yale MBA program.”
Steindel was one of some 500 Jews, from around the Pittsburgh area, who packed Levinson Hall at the Squirrel Hill Jewish Community Center on Thursday, Jan. 8, for a program to express community support for the Jewish state. Israel’s consul general to Philadelphia, Avi Zairi, was among the speakers.
The program was co-sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh in cooperation with the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.
While hundreds waited for the program to begin, they talked about recent events. Unlike a Jewish Torah study class, there was not even one dissenting voice in the room.
“Israel has a right and an obligation to protect its citizens,” said Chabad Rabbi Yisroel Altein. “Whatever it takes is what has to be done. The life of every human being is sacred and has to be protected at any cost.”
Moshe Baran jumped in quoting from the Talmud: “When someone gets up to kill you, get up and kill him first.”
“What verse is that from? I’d have to Google it!” Altein responded.
After the singing of Hatikva, to open the program, Attorney Edgar Snyder, chair of UJF’s Israel and World Jewry Commission, spoke.
Snyder interviewed, via a phone hookup, a young Israeli woman, Shir Danino, from Sderot.
Danino’s voice quivered as she described a rocket attack from Hamas.
“I was walking home when suddenly I heard the sirens. There was nowhere to hide so I froze,” she said. “I couldn’t move. Then I saw the rockets over my head. A missile fell on my home with a huge bang. I saw all the smoke and fire and I realized that my mother was there. So I shouted and I started to run like crazy and fainted on the street. A police officer helped me get to the hospital in an ambulance. There I found my mother.”
Luckily, Danino’s mother was in the bedroom, and the rocket fell in the living room. Both mother and daughter lived to tell the story. Their house has since been repaired.
Danino, a high school English teacher, now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and 28 percent hearing loss.
“The fear is in my heart and soul,” she said. “Today when I hear the siren, I’m shaking, crying and afraid of a terrible situation. Pictures from that day return to me. I hope that someday this will be behind us because enough is enough.”
In his first Pittsburgh appearance, Consul General Zairi warned that the situation in southern Israel is getting worse.
“Life in southern Israel has become unbearable,” he said. “For eight years, citizens of the south of Israel have been suffering from the trauma of almost daily missiles, rockets and attacks from Gaza. For eight years the residents of those towns have had only 15 seconds to take their children and find shelter.
“People who have never been through the awful experience of running with their children to a bomb shelter cannot ask you what is the right formula for the proper response to the rockets in their house,” he added. “Would it be right to target innocent people? What is the correct moral response?”
Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato also offered his support to the crowd.
“As a friend, I don’t think anyone can deny Israel the right to defend itself when rockets are flying across its’ border,” he said. “It is important that we stand up and defend our allies. There isn’t one person in this room who doesn’t want peace but they also recognize that when the fighting stops you want to be able to sleep at night, knowing that the peace is going to hold.”
(Dev Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)