This article is reprinted courtesy of Jewish News
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 900 people gathered in the sculpture garden of the Tucson Jewish Community Center (Tucson JCC) on Oct. 9 to show solidarity with Israel in the wake of unprecedented terrorist attacks.
The evening of prayers and songs featured eight local rabbis, other Jewish community leaders, government officials and representatives of multiple faiths including Catholic, Bahá’í and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Weintraub Israel Center (WIC), a joint program of the Tucson JCC and Jewish Philanthropies of Southern Arizona (JPSA), organized the event. WIC Board Chair Jeff Artzi detailed the devastating numbers of those killed, kidnapped and wounded in Israel. “But we are here today not in despair but in unity,” WIC Director Abbii Cook added.
Yuval Malka, who arrived in August as Tucson’s new shlicha (Israeli emissary), and JPSA Community Impact Project Coordinator Arielle Shemesh, a former soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), struggled to hold back tears as they recited “A Prayer for the IDF.”
Before reading Psalm 121, often recited in times of trouble, Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin of Chabad Tucson spoke of his mother, who traveled to Israel to celebrate Sukkot and was stranded there.
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero read “A Prayer for the Jewish People.” Becky Freeman, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani, read his remarks affirming U.S. support for Israel.
Father Edward Lucero, vicar general and moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Tucson; Steve Broadbent, president of Tucson North Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Ruha Temlock, a member of the Bahá’í community, joined with Rabbi Sam Cohon of Congregation Beit Simcha to read a prayer Cohon composed for the occasion. Echoing the Prophet Isaiah, Cohon ended with the wish that “all shall sit under their vine and fig tree and none shall make them afraid.”
Lucero said he was happy to attend on behalf of Bishop Edward Weisenburger, who was unavailable, “to show our solidarity with the Jewish people and the people of Israel.”
For Temlock, it was important to participate because “any time there is human suffering it touches all of us.” She added that Israel, sacred to many religions, is also the site of Bahá’í holy spots in Haifa and Akko.
Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim, recovering from laryngitis, called an audience member onstage to join her in singing the “Mi Shebeirach” prayer for healing. But her voice was strong as she roused the solemn crowd with a chant of “Am Yisrael Chai! The Jewish people live!”
Thanking attendees, Cook outlined ways to continue making a positive impact: giving to a favorite Israeli charity or via JPSA’s Israel relief mailbox, advocating with elected officials to support Israel’s right to self-defense and reaching out to Israelis to offer love and support.
Cook told the Jewish News that the shlicha, Yuval, and her partner, Nitay, had expected perhaps 100 people to show up for the event. “They were both absolutely blown away and the amount of support they felt from this community touched them in a way that I think is just indescribable.”
Phyllis Braun is the former Executive Editor of the Arizona Jewish Post and a freelance writer and editor based in Tucson.