By ANI FREEDMAN, InDepthNH.org
After Saturday’s surprise attack on Israel by the terrorist group Hamas, Jewish communities in New Hampshire are coming together, standing in support of those grappling with the war firsthand.
State Rep. Joe Schapiro (D-Cheshire 16) is focusing on getting together with members of his his local Jewish community rather than taking political action as the war continues into its fourth day.
“It’s one of these things that has been such an intractable conflict for so long that it’s really not surprising, and yet it’s shocking at the same time because any kind of open warfare anywhere is shocking,” Schapiro said in a telephone interview.
“I know it’s extremely disturbing to Jews and people all around the world.”
Schapiro said he will be attending a vigil at his synagogue, Ahavas Achim, in Keene Wednesday at 6 p.m. as he and members of the congregation stand in solidarity with Israel.
“Jews tend to know or indirectly know people who are in danger and it’s terrifying,” Schapiro said.
Ifat Bernstein, a native of Tel Aviv, Israel, has two young daughters who are currently serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
“The situation is really, really bad. It’s the worst that we have ever witnessed in Israel and had to suffer since the independence war,” Bernstein said in a voice message. She worries for her daughters, who she only hears from in a text message once a day. “We try to volunteer as much as we can so we will not have time to think and to feel.”
The Jewish Federation of New Hampshire is hosting a gathering on Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. at the State House in Concord. All synagogues across the state will be participating, according to the Federation. The Seacoast Chabad Jewish Center in Newington will be hosting a vigil on Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. as well.
Extra security is anticipated at the vigils.
“Many people in NH have connections to people who are in Israel,” Jewish Federation Director Allyson Guertin said. “We have emissaries who have spent time in New Hampshire who are currently in Israel. We have an emissary from Israel who is currently here who is having a difficult time thinking about his family there.”
Guertin said they heard from a local Bedford family who is currently in Israel had to shelter-in-place in their hotel as sirens went off.
“It’s really heartbreaking for the New Hampshire community,” Guertin said.
The New Hampshire chapter of the Federation is following the guidance of the Jewish Federation of North America, which has begun fundraising efforts for those in Israel.
Schapiro favored the federal government supporting de-escalation efforts to find a long-term solution but felt that when issues pertaining to Israel come up in the New Hampshire State Legislature, divisiveness takes over.
After a House Concurrent Resolution was introduced in March 2022 to reaffirm support for the nation of Israel and the location of the embassy of the U.S., Schapiro called the process “kind of tragic.”
“One side emerged that was very much pro-Israel, another side emerged that wanted to be in support of the peace process,” Schapiro said. “I didn’t think they cared about Palestinians or Jews and just wanted to earn points with Republicans or Democrats.”
“Solidarity for Israel means different things for different people, but I think we can all get together and agree that people gunning people down, kidnapping people, and holding people hostage is unjustifiable,” Schapiro said.
On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Congressman Chris Pappas (NH-01) helped introduce a bipartisan resolution condemning Hamas’ attacks and standing in support of Israel in its defense efforts.
In a statement released by Pappas’ office, the Congressman said, “The news over the last several days has been horrific and heart-wrenching as Hamas terrorists have brutalized, murdered, and kidnapped innocent Israelis through coordinated attacks.”
In the resolution, submitted by Michael McCaul (R-TX 10th District), Pappas and his colleagues directly hold Hamas accountable for the deaths of 11 U.S. citizens and hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians. The Associated Press reported that over 130 Israelis have been taken hostage while the death toll has surpassed 1,100 and thousands have been wounded on both sides.
Pappas’ statement continued, “I stand with the people of Israel and denounce these terrorist acts in the strongest possible terms. I remain committed to supporting Israel, our steadfast democratically, and its right to defend itself and ensure the safety of its people.”
The attack came just as the Jewish High Holy Days were coming to a close. Saturday marked the beginning of the holiday known as Simchat Torah, which caps off the celebratory week Sukkot, a time of joyous celebration in the Jewish faith. Saturday is also the Sabbath, a day of rest for Jewish people.
The newly introduced resolution also acknowledges that the attack took place just after the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel in which an Arab coalition launched an attack on Israel during the holiest Jewish holiday.
Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) released the following statement as the Chair of the New Democratic Coalition: “[The] New Dems unequivocally condemn the unprovoked attacks launched by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians. We extend our condolences to the families of those killed and pray for those wounded. We support Israel’s right to defend itself against these heinous attacks.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in Tel Aviv about the attack, beginning his remarks with, “Hamas invaded Israeli territory and murdered innocent citizens including children and the elderly. Hamas has started a brutal and evil war.”
Netanyahu’s speech began with forceful threats to Hamas forces in Gaza and assurance that Israel will fight back. President Biden spoke with Netanyahu on Saturday. “I told him the United States stands with the people of Israel in the face of these terrorist assaults,” Biden said in his speech on Saturday. “Israel has the right to defend itself and its people.”
“And let there be no mistake: The United States stands with the State of Israel, just as we have from the moment the United States became the first nation to recognize Israel, 11 minutes after its founding, 75 years ago,” Biden said.
State Rep. Judy Aron (R- South Acworth) said: “I rarely comment on federal issues – however as a citizen of this country, and as a person of the Jewish faith I must comment on the recent brutal attack on Israel.
“The murderous terrorist attack on innocent Israeli civilians prompts me to publicly condemn the actions of these HAMAS terrorists and call upon our country to stand with Israel. I truly don’t want to see our country, or anyone else, dragged into another war, and believe there should always be peaceful negotiations. I was proud of the peaceful Abraham Accords which brought peace and prosperity to the region during the Trump administration.
“That being said, it is distressing that Israel, our friend and ally, has been so brutally assaulted without provocation and it must be swiftly and definitively answered. Israel has every right to defend herself by any means. America should stand ready to help. I pray for Israel and its people,” Aron said.
U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) was unavailable to comment on this story, but released the following statement on Sunday:
“As the assault on Israel by Hamas continues, I reiterate the steadfast support of the United States for the State of Israel. The taking of civilians as hostages further shows the depravity of this terrorist attack.
“Israel has the right to exist, the right to self-determination, and the right to self-defense. Just a few weeks ago, I visited Israel to again emphasize my strong support for protecting the U.S.-Israel alliance. I will continue to work across the aisle in Congress to support Israel, and my prayers are with the people of Israel.”