When I woke up on the morning of Saturday, October 7, to the news of the invasion of Israel, and the reports of civilians slaughtered, it was clear that this time was different. As the stories on the ground continued to unfold, I was shocked at the pure evil and barbarism that had occurred.
During the next few days, we learned about the scale of the atrocities — of the babies and children murdered at point-blank range; of young adults at a music festival gunned down, kidnapped and raped; and of families missing or massacred by Hamas terrorists. We watched media coverage of the terrorists celebrating and reveling openly in their unfathomable and despicable acts.
For the Jewish community, this attack quickly became deeply personal and jarring. This was devastation perpetrated against Jews not seen since events that occurred during the Holocaust. So many of us have a friend, family member or special acquaintance living in Israel. And as we hear that someone we knew or loved was either murdered, kidnapped or struggling from personal trauma, we too felt attacked, traumatized and powerless.
Over the years in Baltimore, the organization I now lead, The Associated, has a long and storied history with the State of Israel. We have built relationships and people-to-people connections with our Israeli friends. Every year, shinshinim, young Israeli emissaries, spend their gap year in Baltimore, sharing their knowledge about Israel, its people and culture, with our community while serving as a human bridge between the people of Baltimore and Israel.
For the past 20 years, The Associated forged a special relationship with the Israeli city of Ashkelon through our Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership. Situated approximately eight miles from the Gaza border, Ashkelon is now among the cities facing the most significant attacks. You can imagine how hard this is for our community members, especially the many who have traveled there, creating bonds and forming lifelong friendships. Over the years, members of these two communities have attended one another’s weddings, celebrated births and supported those who needed help the most, including older adults, Holocaust survivors, immigrants from Ethiopia and Ukraine and the disabled.
And for nearly two decades, my dear friend, Sigal Ariely, has served as the director of the partnership. Living near the Gaza border, she and the entire Ashkelon community have experienced rocket fire and other terror before. In fact, several years ago, her home suffered a direct hit by a Hamas rocket and was destroyed.
Yet, she said, never had she seen anything of this magnitude. She recalls texting her friend, hiding in a shelter with her daughter in one of the communities on the border. Her friend, who stayed hidden in a small room for more than 20 hours, not moving or making noise, heard Hamas terrorists above her throughout the day, as well as shots fired outside her home and screams of victims. Later, as she emerged, she found many of her friends and relatives massacred or missing.
Amidst this tragedy, there have been many displays of humanity. What’s been so heartening is the overwhelming support we have received from our friends outside the Jewish community. So many Baltimoreans have reached out to me to see how our community was doing.
Thousands gathered at a prayer vigil at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, where faith-based leaders from other denominations and religions were in attendance, showing solidarity with those who value humanity and civility.
Yet, others are using this situation to spread their anti-Israel propaganda and hate directly toward Jews. Anti-Israel rallies sprang up around the world, such as the one outside the Sydney Opera House in Australia, where swastikas appeared, and protestors chanted “Gas the Jews.” And according to the Anti-Defamation League, preliminary data reveals a rise in online and real-world incidents of antisemitism in the United States in the wake of the recent conflict in Israel.
Many in our community also have received communications signed by numerous college campus organizations, blaming Israel for what has transpired. Although the politics in the region are complex, these organizations are choosing to ignore the clear inhumanity of the terrorist attacks and continue to spread false narratives about this tragedy. Any justification for what we have witnessed must be called out for what it is — this was pure evil.
In light of this current situation, people ask me what they can do. I would say first and foremost, reach out to your Jewish friends, colleagues and neighbors — they are not all right. They are suffering as they process what is going on. Your kind words and your show of support will make them feel they are not alone.
Second, these civilians and victims need our help now. The Associated has created an emergency fund with 100% of the proceeds going directly to our on-the-ground partners who are dispensing lifesaving humanitarian services. They are assessing the real-time needs — needs that range from trauma support to bullet-proof vests for volunteers to food, medicine and other humanitarian aid.
Finally, we must stand up for what is right and lean into civility and kindness as our guiding principles.
Our collective future is at risk if we don’t.
Marc B. Terrill is president of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.