December 6, 2023

Shame and Pride

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

Dear Federation and Community Leaders,

Like many of you, I’m disgusted and deeply disappointed by the testimonies yesterday of the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The three of them were called to respond to antisemitic incidents on their campuses, and were questioned before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. You can see the shameful dodges when asked by Rep Elise Stefanik (R-NY)  on whether calls for Jewish genocide violated their schools’ policies. None of the three presidents offered a direct or affirmative answer. All of them smirked and avoided the question. Note also the sham usage of “context,” which would never be used with any other identity-group. Shame on them.

Fortunately, our day here in Greater MetroWest yesterday was infinitely more inspiring and uplifting. 400 community members including over 50 Holocaust survivors came together at the Centennial Luncheon, “Sharing Our Voices: Keeping the Memories Alive” honoring Holocaust survivors and their descendants, at the Crystal Plaza. At the luncheon we launched interactive two way artificial intelligence, Storyfiles, of Holocaust survivors, Hanna Wechsler and Mark Schonwetter. We also heard from the amazing granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, Mara Berger, on the importance of continuing to share her families story of survival. We’re looking forward to having the Storyfiles in schools, houses of worship, and businesses around the community in the months to come. I’m grateful for my colleague Ilyse Shainbrown, Director of Holocaust Education, along with Jamie Carus, Leann Lindsley, and Jill Nadison, for all their hard work putting the event together; and Event Chairs Marjorie & Norman Feinstein, Isabella & Josh Fiske, Cori & Jason Wilf. Plus a ton of hard-working professionals and lay volunteers. Thank you all.

The Latest. Here we are. As fighting continues, following the collapse of the ceasefire, three more soldiers have been killed, bringing the total number of IDF casualties since the ground offensive began to 84, (and to 410 IDF since October 7). One of those killed in recent days was an American-Israeli man, Ben Zussman. His mother’s moving eulogy has been widely viewed in Israel. See details of all the fallen soldiers here. By late Tuesday afternoon, the IDF said that its troops had reached the center of Khan Yunis, the largest city in southern Gaza. Hamas rocket attacks on Israel remain far lower than earlier in the war, but continue to strike Israeli cities daily. Yesterday, as a result of a particularly large barrage, several people were lightly injured by shrapnel from rockets in Tel Aviv and other locations. One rocket hit a kindergarten; thankfully, all the children were in the safety of the shelter at the time. In the north, Hezbollah continues its medium-level rocket and other fire against Israeli targets.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Operations
The IDF reports that “fierce battles” with Hamas operatives in the Gaza Strip continue, as the Air Force carried out strikes against more than 250 targets over the past day (see footage). According to the IDF, yesterday saw some of the harshest battles in Gaza since the ground operation began. The Head of IDF Southern Command said, “This is the most intense day [of battles] since the start of the [ground] maneuver, in terms of terrorists killed, the number of engagements and the use of fire from the ground and the air.” IDF troops are said to have surrounded a home in Khan Yunis belonging to Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar. There is no indication that Sinwar is in the building, as he owns multiple homes, and is believed to be in hiding. Earlier, the IDF had described the terror chief as “a dead man walking.”

The IDF has also announced that there will be a tactical pause in fighting for humanitarian purposes until 2 pm today in the Ash Shaboura area in the Rafah district. The pause will permit urgent supplies to be delivered, and for civilians to evacuate areas of fighting. The IDF has also discovered one of the largest caches of weapons yet during operations in the northern Gaza Strip. The cache (watch footage here), located near a health clinic and a school, included hundreds of RPGs, dozens of anti-tank missiles, tens of explosives, long-range rockets, dozens of grenades, and several drones.

CNN has reported that the US government believes that Israel could wrap up large-scale military operations in the southern Gaza Strip by January, and then shift to more targeted attacks on specific Hamas terrorists and leaders. Hamas insists that the Israeli military campaign has killed more than 15,900 people, mostly civilians. The numbers have not been independently verified and are believed to include combatants as well as Palestinian civilians killed by errant rockets launched by terror groups. Israel says it has killed at least 5,000 armed militants in the fighting, adding that the IDF was deploying high-tech mapping software to try to reduce noncombatant deaths.

Under a week-long truce deal that expired on Friday, 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity in Gaza: 81 Israelis, 23 Thai nationals, and one Filipino. Earlier, four hostages were released one was rescued, and at least three bodies have been recovered. It is believed that 138 hostages remain in Gaza, including approximately 20 women and two young children. Read the stories of those who are still missing. Watch this video of released hostage, five-year-old Amalia Aloni, returning to her kindergarten yesterday, for the first time since being released.

Israel’s Health Ministry said that the hostages recently freed were given tranquilizer pills by Hamas before their release. It is claimed that the drugging was aimed at making the hostages appear calm and happy despite their having suffered physical abuse, deprivation, and psychological terror in Gaza for more than 50 days. Hanna Katzir, who was released from Gaza last month, is in serious condition after her health deteriorated while she was held hostage in the Strip. Israeli military sources say that it may take up to a month for enough pressure to build on Hamas that a new window would open for a truce that would lead to the release of more hostages held in Gaza. A radio report says that military operations will need to continue in both the north and the south of the enclave for this to happen.

Sexual Violence On October 7
Jewish Federations, including representatives from Greater MetroWest, stood with the Israeli Consulate to the United Nations, the World Zionist Organization, and the National Council of Jewish Women earlier this week at the United Nations to call out the violence against women perpetrated by the Hamas terrorists on October 7th and since. Jewish Federations’ National Women’s Philanthropy, Advocacy Corps, National Young Leadership Cabinet, and leadership attended the session in full force, and many more thousands watched on livestream. Watch a recording of the powerful event.

Even as the attacks of October 7th were unfolding evidence was already being seen of acts of brutal sexual violence. Subsequent investigations have revealed the widespread extent of the violence.

Watch Israel’s satirical Eretz Nehederet program poke fun at what they term the UN’s hypocrisy.

Further Reading

We have much more work to do.

Chief Executive Officer