From left: Jewish Long Islanders Rabbi Howard Buechler of the Dix Hills...

From left: Jewish Long Islanders Rabbi Howard Buechler of the Dix Hills Jewish Center, Yona Miller and Jeff Neurman. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Yona Miller was born in Israel two years after the creation of the state in 1948. She lived through traumatic moments, including the 1967 Six-Day War, when she sometimes had to run from her house and dive into a neighbor’s concrete bunker.

Now, the anguish has returned, as the Dix Hills resident absorbs the horror of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that Israeli officials say killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and saw 240 taken hostage.

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s shocking. It’s beyond words,” she said. “It’s just so brutal what they did. It’s hard to comprehend.”

That day and its aftermath have been a double blow for Jews on Long Island: first the surprise attack, then a surge of antisemitism.

The attack was the largest against Jews on a single day since the Holocaust, and — following the collapse of a recent temporary cease-fire — many Jews on Long Island are still backing Israel's efforts to eliminate Hamas, according to community leaders.

Israel's counteroffensive has killed an estimated 17,700 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, and provoked protests around the world.

Community leaders who spoke with Newsday said they supported the seven-day cease-fire that ended on Nov. 30, because it led to freedom for dozens of Israeli hostages, but that the end goal — eradicating Hamas — must be met.

“There’s a difference between a strategic war and a war for survival,” said Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, head of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad movement on Long Island. “From the Jewish perspective, this is a war for our survival. And you can’t negotiate that. You can’t make compromises on that.”

What followed after the attack was “a torrent of antisemitism in America and around the globe," said Rabbi Howard Buechler of the Dix Hills Jewish Center. "Everyone was caught off guard by the hatreds that were unleashed.”

But the Jewish community has “regained our balance from the twin shocks” and many are supporting Israel’s push, he said.

Jewish people on Long Island are “standing up against hatred and terrorism,” Buechler said, referring to rallies locally and in Washington, D.C. Groups also are collaborating with school districts to fight antisemitism, lobbying political leaders and sending supplies to besieged communities in Israel.

The eight days of Hanukkah started Thursday night, and the “Festival of Lights” celebration, which commemorates a Jewish triumph more than 2,000 years ago, is giving many Jews hope that Israel can defeat Hamas, he said.

“The joy of Hanukkah … is dispelling some of the darkness that we have seen,” Buechler said.

Yet the Jewish community, which consists of about 300,000 people on Long Island, is not monolithic in its views on the Israeli military's campaign in Gaza. Some are calling for a permanent cease-fire after months of aerial bombing and a ground operation that has spread across the strip.

“Israel is making itself hated all over the world,” said Carolyn Eisenberg, a professor of history at Hofstra University and who is Jewish. “This is not a time for more violence right now.”

She is among 50 faculty members who signed a letter condemning the violence on both sides and calling for a diplomatic solution.

“A permanent cease-fire and continuing negotiations are the only way to resolve the conflict,” she said. “Diplomacy, not more weapons, is the path toward a lasting peace.”

Supporters of the offensive point to Hamas threatening Israel's existence.

“Israel has to defend itself,” said Jeff Neurman, an attorney who lives in Dix Hills. Israel faces “terrible choices. I think they are trying to choose the least terrible among them.”

David Luchins, chair of the political science department at Touro University and a specialist in the Middle East, agrees Israel has little option but to go hard against Hamas, despite the soaring civilian casualties.

“Israel didn’t start this war,” he said. “Israel didn’t fire the first shot. Israel didn’t attack Gaza. It was a brutal, vicious attack on innocent people, unarmed civilians.”

He noted that in their fight to defeat the Nazis in World War II, the British and Americans aerial bombed Dresden, Germany, killing 100,000 people and destroying most of the city.

Months later, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, killing some 100,000 people.

“War is not pretty,” he said. “In fact, it is heartbreaking.”

Eisenberg said she does not think a military approach will work.

“You can keep killing people, but the conditions that gave rise to Hamas are continuing and you are going to have groups like them forever,” she said.

Miller, who moved to Long Island when she was 18, said she vividly recalls the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel fought against a coalition of Arab states. The war started after a series of border disputes between Israel and Egypt over the rights of Israeli ships to pass through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. Israel was victorious, and vastly expanded the land it controlled, including Gaza and the West Bank.

During the war, her father had not completed a bunker for their family, so they had to use their neighbors' when sirens went off warning of incoming missiles, she said. They also covered their windows with newspapers so the light would not seep out at night, alerting the enemy to their location.

She left for the United States in 1969, but has returned periodically. In 2014, she went back for a wedding, and got caught in another conflict called Operation Protective Edge. As she and relatives were driving down a road, the sirens went off again. They jumped out of the car, dove for the ground and covered their heads with their hands until the sirens stopped.

Today, she feels Israel is again in a fight for its life. “It’s the only Jewish home that we have,” she said.

She is dismayed by the protests she sees against Israel on college campuses and beyond. “Israel would never do what Hamas did. Israel is always peaceful. We never started the war,” she said.

She feels for the Palestinians, though she supports Israel’s counteroffensive. 

“I don’t want to see anybody suffer … But if Hamas wants to continue fighting, then I think Israel has a responsibility to protect itself,” she said. “We’re just going to make sure that this never ever happens again, just like we said after the Holocaust — never again.”

The Jewish drive for a homeland in the region began in earnest with the emergence of the Zionist movement in the late 1800s.

Jews have had a continuous presence in the area for some 3,000 years, with some periodically exiled during different reigns, including that of the Roman Empire. But by the end of the 19th century, increasing numbers of Jews began migrating to the region.

After World War I, the United Kingdom received a mandate from the League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations, to administer the region. The British government's Balfour Declaration, issued in 1917, announced its support for a Jewish homeland. From 1918 to 1947, Jewish immigration grew and along with it came increasing Jewish-Arab tensions, said professor Sara Lipton, head of the history department at Stony Brook University.

In November 1947, after the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed, leaders of the United Nations met in their temporary headquarters in Lake Success on Long Island and voted to partition part of Palestine into separate countries for the Jewish and Arab populations, Luchins said.

The “two-state” proposal would have created an Arab state in the West Bank, Gaza and other locations. Israel accepted the proposal. But Arab leaders and governments rejected it. Some said that while in theory they were willing to live alongside a Jewish state, the proposal was unfair because they would get too little land, Lipton said. Other Palestinians didn’t want a Jewish state at all.

The day after Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, a coalition of Arab states invaded. The Arab-Israeli War led to what is called in Arabic the “Nakba,” or catastrophe — 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forcibly removed from their homes.

Multiple wars and other smaller-scale conflicts have ensued since, including years of suicide and rocket attacks in Israel and military incursions into the Palestinian territories. Peace has remained out of reach.

Supporters of the Jewish state contend it has built the lone functioning democracy in the Mideast — a multiethnic beacon of hope in a region of autocratic, repressive regimes.

Buechler, who called Israel a “thriving democracy,” noted that Muslims, Jews and Christians all live in Israel, and that the Muslim population has representation in the Israeli Knesset, its legislative body.

But the solution to this morass is not clear. Since Hamas has vowed to eliminate the state of Israel, most Israelis and many Jews do not see how a solution can be reached with the militants still in power in Gaza.

Ousting them, though, will be difficult, experts say. One possible replacement, the Palestinian Authority, oversees the West Bank. But that group is widely seen as ineffective, corrupt and dated, Luchins said. 

Despite those questions, the two-state solution still has the support of the U.S. government, most of the international community and many Jewish people on Long Island and beyond.

“I have always been a champion of Palestinian national rights,” said Rabbi Michael White, head of Temple Sinai of Roslyn. “I believe that ultimately it is in everyone’s interest for the Jews to live safely and securely in the state of Israel, realizing our just and legal national rights, and for the Palestinians to be able to achieve the same in a state that exists safely and securely, side by side with Israel.”

“I hope that I will see a Palestinian state birth in my lifetime,” he said. “I don’t know if I will.”

Peace agreements have seemed closer at times.

In one historic scene in September 1993, Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the South Lawn of the White House. President Bill Clinton stood between them, his arms outstretched as the two agreed to sign the Oslo Accords. The agreement set a framework for eventually giving Palestinians self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank.

It seemed peace was at hand — until it wasn’t. Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a right-wing Israeli radical, who along with several groups opposed the peace process. Those years also saw a wave of suicide attacks in Israel and military retaliation.

Further efforts, including Clinton's Camp David Summit in 2000, also failed. And soon after that, the Second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising that brought with it an increase in violence, further shut the door on the process.

Each time peace efforts have fallen apart, “It’s been rewarded unfortunately, tragically, with the most extreme elements taking over,” Luchins said. “It’s very sad.”

He called Hamas “a small, lunatic radical fringe, who in their [original] charter calls for the death of every Jew on this planet.”

Stony Brook’s Lipton noted that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and many in his current right-wing government, have explicitly opposed the two-state solution.

Today, many Jews, including White — as well as some Palestinians — agree that for a solution to be found, both sides need new, enlightened leadership.

“I’m praying that a Palestinian leadership that is credible will rise up and will turn to us and say, ‘The Jews have a right to be here, and we have a right to be, and we’re going to be here together so we have to work out a compromise so that our children aren’t continually massacred,’ ” White said.

Yona Miller was born in Israel two years after the creation of the state in 1948. She lived through traumatic moments, including the 1967 Six-Day War, when she sometimes had to run from her house and dive into a neighbor’s concrete bunker.

Now, the anguish has returned, as the Dix Hills resident absorbs the horror of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that Israeli officials say killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and saw 240 taken hostage.

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s shocking. It’s beyond words,” she said. “It’s just so brutal what they did. It’s hard to comprehend.”

That day and its aftermath have been a double blow for Jews on Long Island: first the surprise attack, then a surge of antisemitism.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Israel-Hamas war broke out on Oct. 7, after Hamas militants attacked Israel. Hamas killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took another 240 people hostage, according to Israeli officials.
  • Israel launched its military reprisal the same day. More than 17,700 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in the combination of a bombing campaign and ground operation, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
  • The conflict dates back even further than the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. There have been overtures toward peace, and moments of hope over the decades, but they were never successful.
  • Jews on Long Island have faced what one rabbi called “twin shocks”: the October attack and the subsequent, significant surge in antisemitism.
  • Read our related story: Palestinians on LI: 2 months of war bring unrelenting horrors

The attack was the largest against Jews on a single day since the Holocaust, and — following the collapse of a recent temporary cease-fire — many Jews on Long Island are still backing Israel's efforts to eliminate Hamas, according to community leaders.

Israel's counteroffensive has killed an estimated 17,700 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, and provoked protests around the world.

Community leaders who spoke with Newsday said they supported the seven-day cease-fire that ended on Nov. 30, because it led to freedom for dozens of Israeli hostages, but that the end goal — eradicating Hamas — must be met.

“There’s a difference between a strategic war and a war for survival,” said Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, head of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad movement on Long Island. “From the Jewish perspective, this is a war for our survival. And you can’t negotiate that. You can’t make compromises on that.”

From the Jewish perspective, this is a war for our survival. And you can’t negotiate that.

— Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, head of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad movement on Long Island

Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

What followed after the attack was “a torrent of antisemitism in America and around the globe," said Rabbi Howard Buechler of the Dix Hills Jewish Center. "Everyone was caught off guard by the hatreds that were unleashed.”

But the Jewish community has “regained our balance from the twin shocks” and many are supporting Israel’s push, he said.

Jewish people on Long Island are “standing up against hatred and terrorism,” Buechler said, referring to rallies locally and in Washington, D.C. Groups also are collaborating with school districts to fight antisemitism, lobbying political leaders and sending supplies to besieged communities in Israel.

Everyone was caught off guard by the hatreds that were unleashed.

—Rabbi Howard Buechler of the Dix Hills Jewish Center

Credit: Rick Kopstein

The eight days of Hanukkah started Thursday night, and the “Festival of Lights” celebration, which commemorates a Jewish triumph more than 2,000 years ago, is giving many Jews hope that Israel can defeat Hamas, he said.

“The joy of Hanukkah … is dispelling some of the darkness that we have seen,” Buechler said.

Community divided on Israel's military campaign

The family of 23-year-old Valentin (Eli) Ghnassia, who was killed in a battle with Hamas militants near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, attend his funeral on Oct. 12. Credit: Getty Images/Alexi J. Rosenfeld

Yet the Jewish community, which consists of about 300,000 people on Long Island, is not monolithic in its views on the Israeli military's campaign in Gaza. Some are calling for a permanent cease-fire after months of aerial bombing and a ground operation that has spread across the strip.

Israel is making itself hated all over the world ... This is not a time for more violence right now.

—Carolyn Eisenberg, professor of history at Hofstra University

“Israel is making itself hated all over the world,” said Carolyn Eisenberg, a professor of history at Hofstra University and who is Jewish. “This is not a time for more violence right now.”

She is among 50 faculty members who signed a letter condemning the violence on both sides and calling for a diplomatic solution.

“A permanent cease-fire and continuing negotiations are the only way to resolve the conflict,” she said. “Diplomacy, not more weapons, is the path toward a lasting peace.”

Supporters of the offensive point to Hamas threatening Israel's existence.

Israel has to defend itself.

—Jeff Neurman, a Dix Hills attorney 

Credit: Rick Kopstein

“Israel has to defend itself,” said Jeff Neurman, an attorney who lives in Dix Hills. Israel faces “terrible choices. I think they are trying to choose the least terrible among them.”

David Luchins, chair of the political science department at Touro University and a specialist in the Middle East, agrees Israel has little option but to go hard against Hamas, despite the soaring civilian casualties.

“Israel didn’t start this war,” he said. “Israel didn’t fire the first shot. Israel didn’t attack Gaza. It was a brutal, vicious attack on innocent people, unarmed civilians.”

He noted that in their fight to defeat the Nazis in World War II, the British and Americans aerial bombed Dresden, Germany, killing 100,000 people and destroying most of the city.

Months later, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, killing some 100,000 people.

“War is not pretty,” he said. “In fact, it is heartbreaking.”

Eisenberg said she does not think a military approach will work.

“You can keep killing people, but the conditions that gave rise to Hamas are continuing and you are going to have groups like them forever,” she said.

Israel is 'the only Jewish home that we have'

Rabbis look at an Israeli soldier on a truck during the Six-Days War in June 1967. Credit: Sipa USA via AP/Mondadori Portfolio

Miller, who moved to Long Island when she was 18, said she vividly recalls the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel fought against a coalition of Arab states. The war started after a series of border disputes between Israel and Egypt over the rights of Israeli ships to pass through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. Israel was victorious, and vastly expanded the land it controlled, including Gaza and the West Bank.

During the war, her father had not completed a bunker for their family, so they had to use their neighbors' when sirens went off warning of incoming missiles, she said. They also covered their windows with newspapers so the light would not seep out at night, alerting the enemy to their location.

She left for the United States in 1969, but has returned periodically. In 2014, she went back for a wedding, and got caught in another conflict called Operation Protective Edge. As she and relatives were driving down a road, the sirens went off again. They jumped out of the car, dove for the ground and covered their heads with their hands until the sirens stopped.

Today, she feels Israel is again in a fight for its life. “It’s the only Jewish home that we have,” she said.

She is dismayed by the protests she sees against Israel on college campuses and beyond. “Israel would never do what Hamas did. Israel is always peaceful. We never started the war,” she said.

She feels for the Palestinians, though she supports Israel’s counteroffensive. 

I don’t want to see anybody suffer … But if Hamas wants to continue fighting, then I think Israel has a responsibility to protect itself.

—Yona Miller, of Dix Hills

Credit: Rick Kopstein

“I don’t want to see anybody suffer … But if Hamas wants to continue fighting, then I think Israel has a responsibility to protect itself,” she said. “We’re just going to make sure that this never ever happens again, just like we said after the Holocaust — never again.”

The Jewish drive for a homeland in the region began in earnest with the emergence of the Zionist movement in the late 1800s.

Jews have had a continuous presence in the area for some 3,000 years, with some periodically exiled during different reigns, including that of the Roman Empire. But by the end of the 19th century, increasing numbers of Jews began migrating to the region.

After World War I, the United Kingdom received a mandate from the League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations, to administer the region. The British government's Balfour Declaration, issued in 1917, announced its support for a Jewish homeland. From 1918 to 1947, Jewish immigration grew and along with it came increasing Jewish-Arab tensions, said professor Sara Lipton, head of the history department at Stony Brook University.

In November 1947, after the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed, leaders of the United Nations met in their temporary headquarters in Lake Success on Long Island and voted to partition part of Palestine into separate countries for the Jewish and Arab populations, Luchins said.

The “two-state” proposal would have created an Arab state in the West Bank, Gaza and other locations. Israel accepted the proposal. But Arab leaders and governments rejected it. Some said that while in theory they were willing to live alongside a Jewish state, the proposal was unfair because they would get too little land, Lipton said. Other Palestinians didn’t want a Jewish state at all.

The day after Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, a coalition of Arab states invaded. The Arab-Israeli War led to what is called in Arabic the “Nakba,” or catastrophe — 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forcibly removed from their homes.

Multiple wars and other smaller-scale conflicts have ensued since, including years of suicide and rocket attacks in Israel and military incursions into the Palestinian territories. Peace has remained out of reach.

Many still support a two-state solution

Supporters of the Jewish state contend it has built the lone functioning democracy in the Mideast — a multiethnic beacon of hope in a region of autocratic, repressive regimes.

Buechler, who called Israel a “thriving democracy,” noted that Muslims, Jews and Christians all live in Israel, and that the Muslim population has representation in the Israeli Knesset, its legislative body.

But the solution to this morass is not clear. Since Hamas has vowed to eliminate the state of Israel, most Israelis and many Jews do not see how a solution can be reached with the militants still in power in Gaza.

Ousting them, though, will be difficult, experts say. One possible replacement, the Palestinian Authority, oversees the West Bank. But that group is widely seen as ineffective, corrupt and dated, Luchins said. 

I have always been a champion of Palestinian national rights. I believe that ultimately it is in everyone’s interest ... 

— Rabbi Michael White, head of Temple Sinai of Roslyn

Despite those questions, the two-state solution still has the support of the U.S. government, most of the international community and many Jewish people on Long Island and beyond.

“I have always been a champion of Palestinian national rights,” said Rabbi Michael White, head of Temple Sinai of Roslyn. “I believe that ultimately it is in everyone’s interest for the Jews to live safely and securely in the state of Israel, realizing our just and legal national rights, and for the Palestinians to be able to achieve the same in a state that exists safely and securely, side by side with Israel.”

“I hope that I will see a Palestinian state birth in my lifetime,” he said. “I don’t know if I will.”

A history of failed peace agreements

Peace agreements have seemed closer at times.

In one historic scene in September 1993, Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands on the South Lawn of the White House. President Bill Clinton stood between them, his arms outstretched as the two agreed to sign the Oslo Accords. The agreement set a framework for eventually giving Palestinians self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank.

It seemed peace was at hand — until it wasn’t. Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a right-wing Israeli radical, who along with several groups opposed the peace process. Those years also saw a wave of suicide attacks in Israel and military retaliation.

Further efforts, including Clinton's Camp David Summit in 2000, also failed. And soon after that, the Second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising that brought with it an increase in violence, further shut the door on the process.

Each time peace efforts have fallen apart, “It’s been rewarded unfortunately, tragically, with the most extreme elements taking over,” Luchins said. “It’s very sad.”

He called Hamas “a small, lunatic radical fringe, who in their [original] charter calls for the death of every Jew on this planet.”

Stony Brook’s Lipton noted that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and many in his current right-wing government, have explicitly opposed the two-state solution.

Today, many Jews, including White — as well as some Palestinians — agree that for a solution to be found, both sides need new, enlightened leadership.

“I’m praying that a Palestinian leadership that is credible will rise up and will turn to us and say, ‘The Jews have a right to be here, and we have a right to be, and we’re going to be here together so we have to work out a compromise so that our children aren’t continually massacred,’ ” White said.

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