December 1, 2023

A Final Briefing Before Shabbat

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

Dear Federation and Community Leaders,

We’re tracking a wide number of synagogues in the East Coast who have received bomb threats this morning. While there is no active threat to our community, we urge all our buildings, synagogues, and partners to remain vigilant and keep in contact with local law enforcement and our Community Security Initiative for any and all concerns and questions.

Recent studies point to a rise in antisemitism in the United States and to increased feelings of insecurity among Jewish respondents since the Hamas massacres on October 7th.  Since October 7th, 70% of Jewish people say they feel less safe than before the war started, according to a Jewish Federations poll, and 75% of Jewish people are concerned that their communities will face security problems as a result of the war. An ADL poll found that antisemitic incidents increased by 316% in the month following the Hamas massacres, compared to the same time period last year. Hillel International has tracked a 700% increase in antisemitic incidents on campuses over the past seven weeks, compared to the same time period last year. The ADL found a 919% increase of antisemitic posts on Twitter during the week following the October 7th massacres. The hashtags #DeathtotheJews and #DeathtoJews appeared more than 51,000 times on Twitter during the month after the war broke out, compared to 2,000 times the previous month!

I’ve been asked by several community members to share resources on how we’ve allocated funds from the emergency fund for Israel. There are good overviews here on pastoral guidance and rabbinic services and here on food insecurity. If you’ve given to the fund, I hope you’re proud of the work we’re able to do because of you. And if you’re a United Jewish Appeal donor (our Jewish Federation’s Annual Campaign), you should know that all of the infrastructure, security, fighting Jew-hate, supporting our global Jewish community, happens because of you. So thank you.

The week-long ceasefire in Gaza ended this morning after Israel and Hamas failed to agree on a list of hostages to be released today. Also, the Prime Minister’s office accused Hamas of not fulfilling its promise to release all the female hostages. In a terror attack in Jerusalem on Thursday morning, three people were killed when two brothers, Hamas-affiliated terrorists, opened fire at a bus stop. At least six other people were injured. Among those killed were a 24-year-old woman, and a Rabbinical Court Judge, Dayan Rabbi Elimelech Wasserman. Israeli security forces arrested 15 people last night in the West Bank on suspicion of terrorism. A rocket landed this morning in a kibbutz in the south of the country; no casualties, however, were reported.

As part of the hostage-release deal, a total of 112 Israeli hostages have now been released from Hamas captivity and have been reunited with their families, in six separate groups, over the last six days. On Wednesday night, 12 Israeli hostages and four foreign laborers from Thailand were released. Two of the Israelis also held Russian citizenship. Initially, Hamas said that the two hostages with Russian citizenship were not part of the deal, but were, instead, a gesture to Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, since it has become clear that the two were also Israeli citizens, Hamas has announced that the two will count towards the 10 hostages slated to be released this evening. As a result, only 8 hostages were released Thursday. Some reports have suggested that Hamas will also return the bodies of three Israelis it is holding. In what is likely a form of psychological warfare, last night’s releases were repeatedly delayed, with questions arising as to whether the exchange would indeed take place.

The hostages set free so far have been young children, their mothers, elderly women, and foreign workers (mainly from Thailand). In exchange for those let out, Israel has released some 240 terrorists from prison and granted a six-day ceasefire. Terrorists released as part of the deal were all women, and under-18 minors, most serving sentences for attempted murder, stabbings, stone-throwing, and other terror attacks. Prominent Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi was among the 30 prisoners freed by Israel yesterday. There are still around 139 hostages in Gaza, (including 14 women and 4 children) although not all may be alive. Hamas has suggested that some members of the Bibas family are no longer alive, although this has not been confirmed. Kfir Bibas, now nine months old was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz along with his 4-year-old brother Ariel and parents Yarden, 34, and Shiri, 32. Additional details continue to emerge about the harsh conditions under which hostages were, and are, being kept. Food was severely limited (often to less than one pita per day per hostage), and many were beaten by their captors.

See The Times of Israel article here and also these stories of hostages still being held in captivity:

Israel is now continuing its war on Hamas. Watch this this video of the IDF Chief of Staff planning the next stages of fighting. While not officially party to the ceasefire agreement, Hezbollah, as an ally of Hamas has also held fire from the north. An exception to this came yesterday as a drone crossed into Israeli territory from Lebanon, sounding sirens in towns along the border. The IDF shot down the drone.

International Response
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told members of Congress that the White House isn’t seeking conditions on aid to Israel. Several progressive Democrats have called for conditioning aid to Israel, as the civilian casualty figures in Gaza increase.

Meanwhile, an American destroyer shot down a drone headed for Israel on Thursday that was launched from a part of Yemen controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The US military’s Central Command stated, “At approximately 1100 (Sanaa time), while in the South Red Sea, the Arleigh-Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64) shot down an Iranian-produced KAS04 unmanned aerial vehicle launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.”

U.S. Senators have been left silent, after viewing shocking footage of the October 7 massacres.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the first time called for an investigation into allegations of sexual violence committed during the October 7 Hamas massacres.  He said that “There are numerous accounts of sexual violence during the abhorrent acts of terror by Hamas on 7 October that must be vigorously investigated and prosecuted. Gender-based violence must be condemned. Anytime. Anywhere.” Only took him seven weeks.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan addressed the UN Security Council on Wednesday and said, “This war can end tomorrow, even today. If Hamas returns all of the hostages and turns in all the terrorists who took part in the massacre, a real ceasefire can be achieved that will last decades. Demand this of Hamas. This is the solution.” Read his full remarks.

Also interesting …

  • Watch this JDC video about the multitudes of volunteers working in agriculture to save crops during the current war.
  • Tamar Kam was shot in the stomach by Hamas and her boyfriend was killed as they took shelter in a kibbutz apartment after escaping the Nova Music Festival massacre. Now, she is receiving support from The Jewish Agency’s Fund for Victims of Terror as she recovers.
  • Magen David Adom, a recipient of Jewish Federations allocations, has been at the forefront of saving lives during the current war. Watch more.
  • Time Magazine: Why I support Israel, by philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy
  • Anti-Israel Activism in American Universities:
  • Jewish Federations have now raised a total of more than $659 million system-wide and allocated close to $200 million to a wide range of humanitarian organizations in Israel. See our impact stats here.
  • Volunteering: Read this updated Jewish Federation update on the latest volunteering opportunities in Israel right now.

Let’s hope for a peaceful Shabbat, for all the hostages to be returned, and for healing for all who need it.

Chief Executive Officer