A photograph taken by Mitchell Silber, executive director of the...

A photograph taken by Mitchell Silber, executive director of the Manhattan-based Community Security Initiative, shows an Israeli soldier in the lobby of the West Hotel Ashdod in Ashdod, Israel, after Hamas militants launched an attack on the country over the weekend.

Blaring air raid sirens early Saturday jolted Mitchell Silber from his sleep in an Ashdod, Israel hotel room.

Silber, executive director of the Manhattan-based Community Security Initiative, had been in Israel to lead a Sunday seminar on combating antisemitism when Hamas militants launched a weekend attack.

The onslaught on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip would eventually force cancellation of the seminar and related events, which were to feature two dozen law enforcement officials from Long Island and other parts of the metropolitan area.

But about 6:30 a.m. Saturday, Silber and others in the New York contingent were more focused on survival inside the hotel in Ashdod, a city about 20 miles south of Tel Aviv and about 15 miles from Gaza.

"We all had to run for shelter in our hotel," Silber said. 

This being Israel, accustomed to threats from enemies, a place to hide wasn't hard to find inside the West Hotel Ashdod.

"The hotel had plenty of bomb shelters," he said. "We had 20 more bomb shelter air raid warnings that forced us into the shelters over the course of three hours."

Word came that all seminar-related events had been canceled.

"We were told we would have to stay in the hotel for the rest of the day," Silber said, adding that at some points, "we were seeing Israel's Iron Dome intercept system shoot rocket interceptors into the sky."

Both the Nassau and Suffolk police departments had representatives at the conference, which was to include visits to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, starting Sunday and continuing through Friday.

"Two Suffolk County Police Department supervisors joined other metropolitan area law enforcement officers at a counterterrorism and antisemitism conference in Israel this weekend," the department said in a statement. "The supervisors, who are in the Criminal Intelligence Section and the Hate Crimes Unit, are safe and on their way home."

In a later statement, the department confirmed the officers were home.

Nassau police spokesman Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun said the department had two detectives from its Bias Crimes Unit at the conference. 

Silber said the seminar was to focus on antisemitism: "What it is, where it comes from, how it works, how to combat it," along with counterterrorism strategies and an exchange between the New York metropolitan area law enforcement officials and those from Israel. Two dozen law enforcement officials from New York City, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland counties were invited, Silber said. The other co-sponsor of the seminar was the Community Security Service,  an organization that promotes Jewish security volunteerism.

"From all the information we were getting from the government and the NYPD liaison, it becomes clear...this program is not going to happen."

According to Silber, all 32 people at the conference had arrived safely back to Kennedy Airport by Monday morning.

The group had to get a plane from Israel's Ben Gurion Airport on Arkia Airlines to Dubai after several American and international airlines canceled flights, Silber said. Sunday afternoon, Silber said, the group left, had a three- to four-hour layover in Dubai. "and landed at JFK at 9 a.m. [Monday]. No man or woman was left behind. We got everybody."

Silber said he left the country with mixed emotions.

"No one signed up to go to a war zone ... Everyone was very courageous and brave. When the moment was right to leave, we did with a heavy heart," he said. "We were leaving the Israelis to the fight."

Silber likened the situation to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 in the United States.

Being in Israel over the weekend was "as if you landed in New York on Sept. 10, 2001 at JFK, took a taxi to New York and checked into your Manhattan hotel and [the next day] it was Sept. 11. We flew into Israel's Sept. 11, and we were there for it."

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