PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As news of a surprise attack by Hamas on Israel during a major Jewish holiday reverberated around the world, the tight-knit community in Portland expressed outrage and resilience in the face of the barrage.
A stunned Israel launched airstrikes in Gaza, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the country is now at war with Hamas and vowing to inflict an “unprecedented price.”
Bob Horenstein, the Director of Community Relations of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, told KOIN 6 News he is “saddened, sick and appalled.”
“This is our Jewish Sabbath today (Saturday), our Shabbat. And this weekend, today in Israel. And then tonight, and tomorrow here in the United States, in Portland, is a Jewish holiday, which is supposed to be one of the most joyous holidays. It’s the completion of reading the Five Books of Moses, the Torah. And it’s one of the happiest occasions on the Jewish calendar. And to wake up to this sort of news that over 200, Israelis had been murdered, hundreds have been injured, dozens have been kidnapped, including women and children and elderly. It’s been really, really difficult.”
Horenstein said the worldwide community of Jews — “a fairly small community of 50 million people” — look out for each other. He said his wife, who is Israeli, is among the many who still have friends and family still living in Israel.
“They are frightened. They are in shock. And so we’re very concerned about what’s happening. Many of them right now,” he said, “are huddled in bomb shelters.”
He said the attack by Hamas mostly targeted Israeli civilians.
Horenstein also added context to the attack.
“What people should understand is that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. And when I say withdrew, they withdrew their entire military. But not only that, they also dismantled 21 Jewish communities and evacuated every Israeli who was living in Gaza,” he told KOIN 6 News. “And the consequence of that, was that 2 years later, this homicidal extr+emist terrorist organization took over that what we hoped would have been a peaceful enclave, but instead, is now running that territory has been firing thousands, tens of thousands of rockets aiming at Israeli civilians.”
“It saddens me,” he said, “that this is this is what has happened over the last 18 years when there could have been coexistence and instead, we’re seeing the result.”
Horenstein said “moral support” is a critical need for the Jewish community at this time.
“Beyond that, we need for people to understand Israel’s need to defend its borders, its people. I mean, imagine had such an attack occurred on our side, in our country, how we would have to react to that and defend our country. Israel has to do the same thing.”
He said the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland opened an emergency fund to help with medical supplies and other items that may be need. They’ve added a donation link on their website, JewishPortland.org
But, Horenstein said, the Jewish community is now and always has been resilient to attacks.
“You know, as my wife said, this will not stop us from having a celebration, that’s what the terrorists want. They want to destroy our lives, and we’re not going to allow that to happen,” Horenstein told KOIN 6 News. “And so, you know, there are a lot of Israelis living here, and I’m sure they are all worried about family members. But you know, Israel will prevail, and we will move on.”
‘Terrorism, pure and simple’
“Today is one of the happiest dates on the Jewish calendar, the Jewish religious calendar,” said Rabbi Michael Cahana of Congregation Beth Israel. “To have this day greeted with war is devastating.”
Rabbi Cahana said this is not a war between nations.
“This is a war of terrorists. and the terrorists are attacking in people’s homes and fighting on the streets. They are not concerned about the welfare of the Palestinian people,” he told KOIN 6 News.
The attack happened 50 years and one day after the Yom Kippur War, and Rabbi Cahana said this is not an accident.
In 1973, “the Arab nations around Israel attacked on our holiest day,” he said, adding this attack will make peace more difficult to achieve.
“This is not something that brings about peace or security to Israel or to the Palestinians. This is terrorism, pure and simple.”