At a rally held in solidarity with Israel Monday night, Ardmore resident Amichai Shdemah told the story of his step-grandmother’s abduction from her home in Nir Oz kibbutz by Hamas terrorists.
The woman, whom Shdemah calls “Savta” or grandmother, is 84.
“We know some details. In the morning, she was hiding in the safe room,” Shdemah said. “Later, a neighbor heard her calling for help and went outside. He realized he couldn’t help her. There were too many terrorists, and he fled back to his safe room.”
Family members kept trying to call her cell phone. Eventually, someone answered and said in Arabic, “Hamas.”
“We are helpless and sick with worry,” he said. Officials gave the family no information. “They have checked hospitals,” he said. “And the list of the dead.”
“She was a social worker who worked with many families,” he continued. She has the “gift of an enormous family and remembers everybody’s birthday. She always made us feel part of her family. Her chicken soup is our kids’ favorite.”
With signs that said “Philly Stands With Israel” and blue and white Israeli flags, around 1,000 people rallied in Wynnewood to support the Jewish state after the horrific Hamas terrorist attack that began on Saturday.
The group prayed, sang, and listened to remarks from politicians, clergy, and Jewish community leaders.
Michael Balaban, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Jewish Federation, organized the rally. He thanked the supporters and donors who’ve aided the beleaguered Jewish state.
“I don’t have sufficient words to describe the horror of the past few days,” said Balaban. “To wake up on Saturday morning, on Shabbat, a day of rest and Smideot Serot, to the news that Israel, our Jewish homeland and our Jewish people, had been attacked with thousands of rockets. And hundreds of terrorists infiltrated from Gaza. The news of Israelis being murdered, taken hostage, thousands wounded.”
“To read news of toddlers being kidnapped by terrorists,” said Balaban. “To know that refresh of social media or the news would bring with it horrific new details. We stand united, but we also stand in pain together,” he said. “We are heartbroken. We cry together. We are grieving. And we are angry.”
“In our own streets of Philadelphia and in Times Square,” he added, “while Jews are being massacred, there are those that cheer for our destruction. We’ve heard them call these terrorists’ freedom fighters,’ but that’s not what they are. They’re murderers who’ve stolen the lives of innocent Jews.”
“We’ve seen this same hatred time and time again. Like a virus, hatred of Jews has survived over time by mutating,” he said.
Gov. Josh Shapiro said, “We stand against terror, and we stand with Israel.”
Many are worried about our friends and family in Israel, which is “now a war zone.”
Others have never been to Israel but “recognize its critical role in the world. You recognize what Israel represents: Freedom. Democracy and peace. Those are values that we as Americans and we as Pennsylvanians hold dear.”
The gathering was near the spot where William Penn arrived 341 years ago, said Shapiro.
Penn had “a vision to build a colony built on the promise of religious tolerance and understanding,” said Shapiro. “Today, three and half centuries later, I am honored to address you tonight, both as the 48th governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and as a proud American Jew.”
“We must condemn the horrific acts of war perpetrated by Hamas and their enablers,” Shapiro said. “Hundreds of Israelis are among the dead and captured. But so are American citizens, as well as British, French, Canadian, Mexican, and so many other nationalities…These unprovoked attacks on innocent civilians warrant condemnation here in America and all across our globe…Let me speak the truth. There is no moral equivalency between Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization as designated by the United States, and Israel, the only functioning pluralistic democracy in the Middle East.”
Tsach Sa’ar, Acting Consul General of Israel, said, “My homeland is bleeding. My homeland is burning. And my homeland is the closest ally of your homeland in the Middle East and beyond. This same homeland is the spiritual anchor for the Jewish community in America.”
On a joyous day in the Jewish calendar, “Palestinian terrorists from Hamas unleashed unprecedented terror. They killed over 1,000 individuals. Left thousands injured. And abducted more than 100. The victims, Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and Americans, and other foreigners…The atrocities committed are unspeakable. Children were murdered. Women were assaulted and abducted to Gaza. Elderly women at a bus stop were sprayed with bullets. Others were set ablaze.”
“It marks the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” said Sa’ar.
“These horrifying actions were not just against Israel. They were acts against America, against the free world and all of humanity.”
Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) and about 14 state legislators attended the rally. Representatives from the offices of other area congressional representatives, as well as from Sen. Bob Casey and Sen. John Fetterman, attended.
“I stand with Israel 100 percent,” said Philadelphia resident Gail Norry before the rally. “I’m horrified at what has happened. They took innocent lives. Havoc has been wreaked.
“These were people sleeping in their homes,” said Norry. “Young adults at a concert. They just had their entire lives turned upside down. The nature of the attack, just how horrible it was.” She had just traveled to Israel in May to celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary.
“It is the only place to be in Philly if you’re a strong supporter of Israel and a proud Jew,” said Joshua Steinerman, a Bala Cynwyd resident who came with his family.