Pro-Israel community gathers in support of Israelis in current Gaza Strip conflict

Sunday, August 3, 2014 | 10:15 p.m. CDT; updated 11:44 a.m. CDT, Monday, August 4, 2014
Members of Columbia's Jewish community gathered Sunday evening to express their support for Israel in its current conflict in the Gaza Strip.

COLUMBIA — Members of Columbia's Jewish community gathered Sunday evening to express their support for Israel in its current conflict in the Gaza Strip.

"We felt it was important to come together to show support as a community," said Jeanne Snodgrass, director of Mizzou Hillel and an organizer of the event.

In the large prayer room at Congregation Beth Shalom synagogue, at least 60 people listened to local Jewish and Christian community leaders and others express their support for Israel and for each other. The most recent flare of hostilities in the region started July 8, according to the Associated Press.

Speakers included Snodgrass; Rabbi Avraham Lapine, of Chabad of MU and Mid-Missouri; and Rabbi Yossi Feintuch and Joel Shenker, both of Congregation Beth Shalom.

Gail Bank, 89, attended the event because he thinks it is important to show support for Israel. He is a member of the Congregation Beth Shalom and visited Israel in 2012.

"They need all the help they can get," Bank said before the event started.

Many of the speakers emphasized the complexity of the relationship that many American Jews have with the nation of Israel.

"The people of Israel are part of our family," Shenker said to the crowd. He is the president of the congregation. "And like any family, it's complex. ... But when family is in crisis, you pull together."

Snodgrass echoed Shenker as she took the podium.

"We talk about Israel as a family," Snodgrass said. She most recently visited Israel six months ago. "Families are complex and complicated, and you don't always agree with everything they do, but you still love them."

Hannah Alexander, an Israeli-born professor of biological sciences at MU, shared her emotional tales of growing up in Israel and serving in the Israeli Defense Force during the Six-Day War. She recalled evacuating her village near the Gaza border with her mother during another conflict, the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.  

Although Alexander often feels that Israel can do more for peace, her views on Hamas have always been strong.

"Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel," she said. "This isn't going to happen."

Several non-Jewish community members offered their support for the Jewish community and the Middle Eastern country as well. Lawrence Okamura, an MU professor of history, shared with the crowd stories that spoke to the resilience of the Jewish people throughout their often tragic history.

He believed the struggle against Hamas to be a just cause, and he said the people of the world are better off with a peaceful Israel, rather than a nation surrounded by  Islamist extremist groups challenging its existence.

Rev. Tom Leuther of the Family Worship Center also shared his enthusiastic support for Israel and its military, the Israel Defense Forces.

"When someone takes a stand against Israel, they are taking a stand against God's will," Leuther said.

The Associated Press reports that at least 1,888 Palestinians have been killed. Most of the Palestinian casualties have been civilians, while all but three of the 64 people killed in Israel have been in the military.

Supervising editor is Seth Klamann.

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