‘It’s a horror movie’: Ex-Nassau Jewish Center head has front seat to war

‘It’s a horror movie’: Ex-Nassau Jewish Center head has front seat to war
Israel emissaries stand united during the rally in support for Israel at the Sid Jacobson JCC Monday afternoon. (Photo by Cameryn Oakes)

Lirin Goshen woke up in her home in Israel at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning to the sounds of alarms. With air strikes quite common, Goshen said she and her family were not unnerved and went to take shelter.

“It’s scary, but we are so used to it,” Goshen said.

But then, Goshen said, they turned on the television and saw a “nightmare” as the reality of the situation set in.

“It’s a horror movie,” Goshen said.

Early Saturday morning, the conflict between Israel and Palestine reached a new pitched level when Hamas, an Iran-funded terrorist group that controls Gaza, launched a surprise attack, storming Israeli towns across the border.

The attack has resulted in the deaths of nearly 1,000 Israelis and 900 Palestinians, with about 150 civilians abducted in mass kidnappings, including a small number of Americans, according to news reports Tuesday.

Goshen shared her story via livestream at a community gathering Monday afternoon hosted by the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center, where she formerly served as its director for the Center for Israel.

The gathering was held to show support for Israel, with a diverse array of community members speaking to share their support. Hundreds filled the seats of the auditorium, with many having to stand in the aisles, against the walls and in the hallways.

Goshen said the news left her and her family in shock, seeing images of people murdered in the streets and the lack of security presence from the Israeli Defense Force, which did not anticipate the attack.

Israel formally declared war on Hamas Sunday and by Tuesday had “more or less” secured the border, according to the Israel Defense Forces, amid fierce attacks by both sides. Approximately 11 Americans were reported to have been killed, President Joseph Biden said Monday. Thousands have been wounded.

Goshen said that in the days after the attack, the nightmare has continued for her and her family.

Goshen lives in what she called a “mixed city” with both Israelis and Arabs living in her neighborhood. In the aftermath of the attack, Goshen and her kids are staying with her sister and her husband has been called up for the military’s reserve duty to fight in the war.

“Every call with my husband feels, I don’t want to say that it feels like the last call because, for God’s sake, it’s not and I hope that everyone will come back safe and healthy,” Goshen said. “But the situation is that we’re still trying to get control of Israeli territories.”

Nassau County District 10 Legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip, who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia as a child and has family living in Israel, held back tears as she shared the story of learning the news Saturday morning.

As the attacks occurred on the Shabbat, or sabbath, Pilip said she was unable to talk on the phone due to Jewish religious practices and alert her neighbors. Instead, she said she ran from synagogue to synagogue to deliver the news.

On Sunday, she said she was finally able to speak to her sisters in Israel. Pilip said they were fortunately safe, but one of her sisters was hiding with her family in a bomb shelter.

Conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians predates the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, which divided Palestine into two separate Jewish and Arab states, and has been followed by seven decades of uprisings and wars.

Amnesty International, a non-partisan human rights watch group, released a report in 2022 saying Israel was maintaining “a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians” through territorial fragmentation, segregation and control, dispossession of land and property and denial of economic and social rights. The report called the Israeli system an apartheid against Palestinians.

The attacks over the weekend followed earlier clashes this summer when Israel launched surprise airstrikes along the Gaza Strip in May that killed military officials and civilians.

In June, Israel raided Jenin, a city in Palestine, and deployed helicopter gunships in the West Bank. This was the first time this was done since the second intifada, a four-year Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000.

In July, Israel conducted air and ground attacks with drone strikes on a refugee camp in Jenin, killing 12 people in the attacks. Israel called it part of its counterterrorism effort.

JCC Board of Directors President Nancy Waldbaum recounted the lyrics of a song she was taugh when she went to yeshiva four decades ago: “I promise you my little girl that this will be the last war.”

“Unfortunately as we sit here today, sharing our devastation and our horror, those words unfortunately did not come true,” she said.

Waldbaum denounced the attacks

“Our hope for Israel is that peace will be restored to the land,” Waldbaum said. “We hope that those that have been taken hostage will be returned unharmed. We hope fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers will be returned to their families. We hope that Israel will know that there are communities around the globe praying for a swift end to this war. We hope that the day will come when we will all live in  a world where there is truly no place for hate.”

The gathering began with a 30-second moment of silence, followed by the center’s Israeli emissaries who lit a candle and led a prayer for those killed.

The gathering finished with kaddish, followed by “Hatikvah” – Israel’s National Anthem – which rang throughout the auditorium.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman lambasted the attacks “cowardly and murderous,” calling for the community to stay strong with Israel. He said this is not a moment for de-escalation, but a moment for Israel to fight back.

“This is not about revenge,” Blakeman said. “It’s about survival… There can be no restraint until Hamas is destroyed.”

In response to the war, Blakeman said he has increased security throughout the county. He reported that no acts of terrorism has happened in the county.

“But we will remain vigilant,” Blakeman said.

Security measures implemented this past weekend include an additional 20 police cars patroling throughout the county, as well as the mobilization of the Bureau of Special Operations, otherwise known as the SWAT team, the Emergency Services Unit, K9 Unit, Mounted Unit and Aviation Unit.

Blakeman said the county’s Intelligence Center is fully staffed and the Homeland Security Department is fully operational.

In tandem with his efforts in the county, Blakeman said he also co-wrote a letter with Rep. Anthony D’Esposito calling for Biden to use military aircraft to bring Americans home from Israel.

Todd Richman, a member of the Long Island Executive Committee of the UJA, told attendees how they can continue to support Israel: attend rallies, donate and urge elected officials to express their support as well.

Israel Nitzan, former acting consul general of Israel in New York, said these days have been difficult for Israelis.

“Nevertheless, Israel shall prevail,” Nitzan said. “Israel will win this battle, Israel will win this war.”

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