Rabbi Joel Levenson of Midway Jewish Center in Syosset speaks...

Rabbi Joel Levenson of Midway Jewish Center in Syosset speaks during a Stand With Israel rally at Plainview-Old Bethpage Park on Sunday. Credit: Jeff Bachner

When Israeli Defense Forces paratrooper Ira Kohler told his fellow soldiers he was heading home to Plainview after fighting for more than 100 days in Gaza and finishing his service, they begged him to reconsider.

“They said, ‘What are you doing? Don’t go home — antisemitism is on the rise,’ ” Kohler told hundreds of people who gathered Sunday at Plainview-Old Bethpage Park for a rally to show support for Israel in the ongoing war with Hamas.

“I told them they were wrong,” he said to cheers. “I told them we had a strong community.”

The event, which included speeches from elected officials and community leaders, as well as Kohler and Holocaust survivor Alfred Weinberg, was also designed to celebrate the contributions of the Jewish community during Jewish American Heritage Month.

But most of the messages were marked by a strong condemnation of Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization that invaded Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and abducting about 250.

That set off a war that has now claimed the lives of at least 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Israel says militants still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

One of the hostages still believed to be in captivity is Plainview native Omer Neutra, who served as an officer and tank commander in the IDF.

Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, who organized the event, referred to Neutra as “our son” and led chants to bring the hostages home.

“We stand with Israel,” he told the crowd. “We stand with you.”

Kohler said it was important to return to the United States so he could share his firsthand accounts of the war and fight for Neutra to be released.

“Hamas is standing between myself and my friend Omer,” Kohler said. “Hamas is standing between Omer, his mother, his father and his brother.”

Weinberg, 88, of Farmingdale, told the harrowing story of how his family fled Nazi Germany in 1939 to the Dominican Republic before settling in New York several years later.

Tami Bekritsky, 39, of West Hempstead, attended the rally with her mother, Mindy; father, Woody; and brother, Evan.

“This is our family and I will not turn my back ever on my family,” Tami Bekritsky said after the rally ended, noting she has deep Jewish roots on both sides of her family. “You might not always agree with each other, but at the end of the day, I will stand to fight for the release of the hostages and to end Jewish hate.”

Mindy Bekritsky said it was important for her to come to the rally with her family to show their pride and that they have no fear.

“I'm the daughter of a Holocaust survivor,” she said. “I don't hide. I raise my children [to] stand up front and be proud of who you are … our blood is on the line and this is our life.”

With AP

A photo caption in an earlier version misidentified the speaker at a rally Sunday.

Babylon village heroes fountain … High rip current risk … Guns & Pot Credit: Newsday

Updated 18 minutes ago North Amityville crash ... Montauk parking ... Northport/East Northport time capsule ... Make your own charm bracelet

Babylon village heroes fountain … High rip current risk … Guns & Pot Credit: Newsday

Updated 18 minutes ago North Amityville crash ... Montauk parking ... Northport/East Northport time capsule ... Make your own charm bracelet

Latest videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME