Speech given to Independence Hall on Oct. 16, 2023 after a “March For Israel” from City Hall:
On October 7th at 7:30 in the morning on Shabbat and Simchas Torah, I was walking up Ben Yehuda Street on my way back from sunrise services at the Western Wall. That is where I was when the sirens went off for the first time. The small group of students and our guide had to run and take shelter in a doorway as the Iron Dome intercepted rockets overhead. We sat in the shelter for 15 minutes hearing the explosions and seeing the flashes of the rockets colliding. That moment was the beginning of a whirlwind four days that would bring to an end what was supposed to be a life-changing three-month study abroad program for me and my Jack Barrack Hebrew Academy classmates. When we returned to the hotel, we were greeted by our classmates who had just been roused from their beds. Most were in pajamas, some hadn’t even had the time to put on shoes before running to the saferoom. All of us were shaken. As the day progressed, as more sirens came, as reports of the massacres in the country’s south began to come in, I called my parents. I was not the only one. Nearly everyone, even those who kept shabbos, was on the phone with their parents, afraid for their lives due to the terrorist onslaught, wondering if Jerusalem was next.
But we chose not to let the terrorists win that day. Even though we could not follow through with our plans for Simchas Torah, instead of sitting around and sulking, we chose to celebrate and had our hakafot and Torah reading in the hotel bomb shelter. As we sang and danced and prayed, there was a feeling of pride and purpose, and it did not stop there. When we returned to campus we assembled over 1,500 care packages that were distributed to survivors of the Kibbutz Be’eri massacre as well as IDF soldiers in Southern Israel. We also started a fundraising campaign, which in only a week, has raised over $136,000 from more than 1,000 people. We watched as Israelis lined up for 8 hours to donate blood, as thousands of Israelis left their lives behind at the drop of a hat in order to go home and serve their country, and as Jews around the world united, we were filled with immense pride, because this past week demonstrated to the world what we have always known.
We are Am Yisrael, the nation that rises from the ashes of destruction, expulsion, persecution, and genocide to reach even greater heights, because we believe in what my Israel Studies teacher Michael Glassman calls the Abrahamic revolution, that right makes might and not the other way around. Because we believe that all Jews are brothers and sisters, and when a Jew anywhere is hurting, all Jews everywhere have their back. Because when the world calls out “Ayekah”, where are you, as God did in last week’s Torah portion, we always proudly and strongly answer “Hineni” Here I am.
We go to shul, we put on Tefillin, we give tzedakah. We come out to support Israel. We persist in our Judaism, in our kiddush hashem Ela Sheb’chol Dor VaDor Omdim Aleinu Lechaloteinu. For, in every generation they try to destroy us, and yet we live on, and will continue to live on for eternity! Thank you to every single one of you who came out today, and proudly said “Hineni” Here I am. Am Yisrael Chai!