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    Prayers for peace at vigil for Israel in Laguna Woods
    • October 14, 2023

    “I felt anger. I kept asking myself, ‘For what purpose was this done? Why? What did they hope to accomplish?”

    Laguna Woods Shalom Club co-President Paula Kruger’s sentiments was among the furious, exasperated and aggrieved reactions of the Village’s diverse residents upon learning that Hamas terrorists had invaded southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

    More than 3,000 people have been killed on both sides of the border, thousands more have been reported wounded, and around 150 people have been taken hostage by Hamas since the attack began Oct. 7.

    Kruger has visited Israel 12 times. She lived with an Israeli citizen for 15 years and served as a volunteer in the Israeli army, so she knows the beleaguered country well, she says.

    “I just spoke with someone I consider my Israeli sister and she said, ‘I don’t know anyone who is not going to a funeral.’”

    Laguna Woods residents attend a peace vigil organized by the Reform Temple of Laguna Woods on Oct. 9 on the back patio of Clubhouse 1, in the wake of the attack by Hamas on Israel. Nearly 300 people attended the vigil.
    (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

    Laguna Woods resident Rebeca Gilad, founder of the Community Bridge Builders, speaks a peace vigil organized by the Reform Temple of Laguna Woods on Oct. 9 on the back patio of Clubhouse 1, in the wake of the attack by Hamas on Israel as Rabbi Joe Mendelsohn looks on.
    (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

    Rabbi Joe Mendelsohn of the Reform Temple of Laguna Woods speaks at a peace vigil Oct. 9 on the back patio of Clubhouse 1, in the wake of the attack by Hamas on Israel.
    (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)

    Rabbi Joe Mendelsohn of the Reform Temple of Laguna Woods speaks at a peace vigil Oct. 9 on the back patio of Clubhouse 1, in the wake of the attack by Hamas on Israel.
    (Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)



    Given the number of Jewish residents in Laguna Woods, some of whom have come from Israel, have family and friends there or who, like Kruger, have visited the Jewish homeland, the shock of the brutal attack reverberated through the community with blunt force.

    Nearly 300 residents of varied religious and political persuasions gathered Oct. 9 on the back patio of Clubhouse 1 for a peace vigil organized by Rabbi Joe Mendelsohn of the Reform Temple of Laguna Woods.

    “These are not just kids throwing stones … Hamas are terrorists,” Mendelsohn told the gathering. “Hamas murdered Jews across the spectrum – they did not care.”

    Mendelsohn made a strong distinction between militants who fight for a political cause and Hamas, who are terrorists.

    “Hamas has rejected negotiated settlements with Israel, and they are opposing the Palestinian Authority that would negotiate peace with Israel,” he said. “They are opposed to peace.”

    He said this is not a religious war, not a war between Islam and Judaism, and not a war of moral equivalents.

    “Yes, there will be noncombatants killed, but it’s not because Israel wants that to happen, but that Israel needs to defend itself,” he said, emphasizing that he did not aim to change anyone’s mind about how Israelis treat Palestinians but to voice a plea for peace.

    Rebeca Gilad, founder of the Laguna Woods Community Bridge Builders, offered a prayer for peace and God’s compassion not only for Israel but throughout the world.

    “May we see the day when war and bloodshed cease … when the human family will not know war,” she said, tears filling her voice. “Enough is enough. What is happening to the world?”

    She told of a cousin who lives in Israel and had planned to attend a family wedding in her native Mexico. “He is now unaccounted for,” she said.

    Ami Gilad, an Israeli by birth in 1948, the year of Israel’s founding, also spoke at the vigil.

    “This is more a plea than a prayer,” he said. “Bless the land with peace.”

    Shelley Rones was born in 1939, when Palestine was under British mandate, and came to the U.S. during World War II. Her younger sister married and moved to Israel and raised six children there.

    “By now, 85 percent of my family lives in Israel – uncles, cousins, my sister-in-law, kids and grandkids. My parents are buried there,” she said. “The safety of my family and the land of Israel affects me a lot.

    “I feel strongly about Israel’s existence not only because of the pervasive anti-Semitic hate around the world but also because I want our young ones to grow up there.”

    Rones has three great-nephews in the Israeli army but is unsure of their whereabouts now.

    “Two of my close friends in Israel lost their children – their funeral was today,” she said. “I can relate to the horror Jewish communities must have experienced when Germany invaded Poland and other countries during World War II.”

    Born in Israel and with family in Tel Aviv, Nathan Kvetny expressed anger at the inhumanity of the attack.

    “I really was shocked – lost for words. I knew how the people (the victims) would be treated – animals would fare better,” he said. “It is human nature, but I was hurt and upset, angry and confused.”

    Born in 1935 and bar mitzvahed at age 13 when Israel was founded, Kvetny said: “I am here – we all have circumstances that bring us to other places, but my heart is there, in Israel.”

    Daphne Davids says she has a cousin who was on Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Gaza Strip, when the tragic events unfolded. More than 100 bodies were found in the kibbutz after the Hamas attack, according to CNN.

    “Our families are ‘friends’ on Facebook, and as these events were occurring, we received Facebook messages begging for help,” Davids said via email. “My cousin, her husband and three young children were hiding in the security room in Be’eri. She messaged us that the army was nowhere to be seen and they needed help badly.

    “After 19 hours, they were taken by three soldiers to the Dead Sea. Their entire kibbutz had been destroyed. … She is now  recuperating and spending time with her family and friends.”

    Shari Horne is a dual Israeli-American citizen. She and her husband have cousins in Israel. Though she says she hasn’t heard directly from them, her brother-in-law heard back and says the family is OK so far.

    “This is horrible. It is hard to watch on TV, but impossible to look away,” Horne said in an email. “To know intimately the places being attacked, and to recognize beloved places destroyed is very hard. It is hard to breathe.

    “My heart is with all those families whose loved ones were abducted and taken into Gaza. I can only imagine the fear and pain of the children.”

    David Shichor and his wife lived in Israel for many years; he was on the faculty of Tel Aviv University. His son and three of his grandchildren live there now, north of Tel Aviv. Shichor has been in contact with them, he said, and they are safe. His youngest granddaughter is finishing her army service this month but is not in a combat unit.

    “Our son volunteered to house refugees from the south, and right now he is organizing his home for receiving a family,” Shichor said via email.

    Shichor last lived in Israel in 1970-75 and experienced the Yom Kippur War.

    “Really, in many aspects, the situation (today) is similar to the 1973 war in which I served,” he said. “Like most of the Israelis, I am completely shocked by the scale of this attack. I can’t understand how Hamas could prepare such a complex attack without being discovered by Israeli intelligence.”

    Marina Levitanus was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1978, but her daughter has been married to an Israeli emergency physician for seven years. Levitanus has four grandchildren living between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

    “My daughter wants me to be calm, but I feel terrified. She can’t talk to me when the younger children are around,” she said.

    Noemi Epstein has family in the Haifa area, where things have been calm, she said. She lived in Israel for three years in the late 1960s and early 70s, also during a time of conflict.

    “Because we lived close to the hospital in Tel Hashomer, we saw the horrors of war firsthand with the wounded being transferred to Emergency in helicopters all day and night long,” she recalled. “We had at that time aside from our Israeli family and friends, Palestinian friends and can only imagine how they are feeling now as well.  In my opinion nobody wins.”

    Marti Hack, president of the Reform Temple, summed up the community’s stance via email: “As a congregation with many friends and family in Israel, we are devastated by this act of hatred where innocent civilians including babies are massacred and are abducted. We stand by Israel and pray for a swift peace and a desire for peace in the heart of our enemies. Finally, we are sincerely indebted to those who reach out to us in solidarity.”

    Rabbi Dennis Linson of Temple Judea in Laguna Woods expressed similar sentiments. The temple also held prayer vigils.

    “We expressed our outrage at the brutality of the terrorist murderers killing innocent civilians: infants, children, parents and grandparents,” he said. “Our prayers were intended to provide comfort and strength in this dire moment in the history of the State of Israel and the people of Israel.

    “As we read in Ecclesiastes during the holiday, ‘there is a time for war and a time for peace.’ We prayed that we will be delivered from this time of war, and enter a time of peace. Meanwhile, Israel we are with you.”

    How to help

    The Reform Temple of Laguna Woods sent to its congregants a list of Israeli charities: A community-based volunteer emergency medical services organization committed to providing the fastest response to medical emergencies across Israel even prior to the arrival of ambulances and completely free of charge.

    ZAKA: Israel’s dominant nongovernmental rescue and recovery organization, with over 3,000 volunteers deployed around the country, on call 24/7 to respond to any terror attack, disaster or accident immediately, professionally and with the necessary equipment.

    FIDF: A nonpolitical, nonmilitary organization that works closely with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to provide for the well-being of its soldiers, veterans, and family members.

    Hadassah: Committed to advancing women’s health, supporting a strong Israel and instilling Jewish values in future generations. Hadassah helped to create the medical system in Israel providing new treatments and scientific breakthroughs which are saving lives around the world.

    Jewish National Fund: Strategic vision has been and always will be to ensure a strong, secure and prosperous future for the land and people of Israel.


    ​ Orange County Register