Josh Dubnau, a professor at Stony Brook University.

Josh Dubnau, a professor at Stony Brook University. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Josh Dubnau is Jewish, with a mother and grandparents who escaped the Holocaust and other relatives who did not. He says he loves the Jewish people as much as anyone and condemns the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas.

But he says he is horrified by what Israel is doing in response in the Gaza Strip. The images of thousands of children and other civilians killed haunt him.

“I feel a very deep connection to the history and the suffering of Jewish people in the Holocaust and in other times in our history,” said Dubnau, a neurobiologist who is a professor at Stony Brook University. “And it is really that background that makes me appalled at the policies of the Israeli government.”

“One slaughter, one massacre can never justify another,” he added.

As Jewish people across Long Island prepare for the major holiday of Passover, which starts Monday night with Seder dinners, the community is fractured.

While some fully support Israel’s war in Gaza aimed at eradicating Hamas, others say the bloodshed of civilians has been too great and will not bring peace and security to Israel.

When Hamas launched a surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7, killing an estimated 1,200 civilians and taking about 250 hostage, most Jewish people on Long Island were hesitant to publicly express anything but support for Israel’s counteroffensive, according to community leaders.

But six months later, as the death toll in Gaza has surpassed 34,000, according to officials there, that hesitancy is vanishing for some. They are attending pro-peace rallies, lobbying public officials, and voicing their opposition publicly.

For some, a turning point came when Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), majority leader of the U.S. Senate and the highest-elected Jewish official in the nation, gave a speech on the Senate floor on March 14. That day, Schumer excoriated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace in the region and called for new leadership.

Schumer accused Netanyahu of being “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows. Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah.”

A Pew Research Center poll conducted a month before the speech found that 33% of American Jews believed the way Israel is conducting the war in Gaza is unacceptable. An even larger number — 42% — of Jews ages 18-34 felt that way.

Without doubt, the Israeli government’s counteroffensive retains strong support in many sectors of the Jewish community on Long Island.

They contend that Hamas provoked the confrontation with its brutal attack on innocents. They say the Israeli government is in the nearly impossible predicament of trying to root out a terrorist organization embedded among the civilian population, including in hospitals under which Hamas hides in a vast tunnel system.

The offensive is “not an operation for Israel. This is an existential threat,” said Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, head of the Chabad movement on Long Island.

“There is no question that there needs to be sympathy for” the Palestinian civilian victims, he said. “However, there is no easy way of taking Hamas off of the map as long as they are mixed in with the total population.

“All of the war experts that I’ve heard from … have made it clear that according to the normal rules of war, Israel has kept a higher standard than almost any urban conflict in history,” Teldon continued. “Is it perfect? Of course not. There is no such thing as a perfect war. There will always be terrible errors, as we saw with the World Central Kitchen” incident when seven aid workers were killed April 1 in an Israeli strike.

Rabbi Michael White, of Temple Sinai of Roslyn, said that as Passover approaches, many Jews on Long Island are feeling “vulnerable and attacked” as the hostages seem “forgotten” by many.

“We are entering a festival which speaks of the liberation of the Jewish people at a time when there are still Jewish people being held hostage by a terrorist death cult,” he said.

“It seems as if the world has forgotten how this conflict began, and instead is attacking Israel at every turn and not remembering that this war started because Hamas broke a ceasefire, massacred people, took people captive, and continues to use its own people as human shields,” he said. “This war would end immediately if Hamas would simply stand down and release the hostages, which it refuses to do.”

The Anti-Defamation League last week reported “a massive spike in antisemitic” incidents after the Oct. 7 attack and Israel’s counteroffensive. The group logged 8,873 incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism against Jews in the U.S. in 2023. That was a 140% increase over 2022 and the highest total since ADL started tracking the data in 1979.

The stakes grew after Iran fired some 300 exploding drones and ballistic missiles at Israel on April 13. Most were shot down, and tensions appear to have at least momentarily cooled, but many fear an escalation could spur a regional war. Iran said it launched the attack after warplanes struck its embassy complex in Syria on April 1, killing seven military commanders. It blamed Israel. Israel retaliated with apparent precision strikes near military and nuclear targets on April 19.

All of the Jewish people on Long Island interviewed by Newsday condemned the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. But critics of the Israeli government contend Netanyahu’s approach in Gaza is leading the country into more war instead of peace.

“I think they are handling it disastrously,” said Kathryn Levy, a poet and arts educator who lives in Sag Harbor. “And I think that Israel has been handling the situation with the Palestinians very badly for decades. And we’re seeing the outcome of that.”

“I believe that basic human rights have to be secured for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people. That would, I should think, be a no-brainer,” she said. “But for years, for decades, basic rights of Palestinians, particularly in the occupied territories, have been denied.”

Levy says she attends a weekly pro-ceasefire vigil on Sunday afternoons in Sag Harbor — one of several Jews in the crowd.

Iris Schiff, a member of Temple Isaiah synagogue in Stony Brook, said she was outraged and in tears while watching TV news of the Oct. 7 assault. Her immediate reaction toward the terrorists was “just kill them, just get them. How could they do this to innocent people?”

But the rising death toll has left her saddened.

“I can’t fathom that anybody would want this to continue, where children, family, innocent people, innocent Palestinians are just getting slaughtered and killed,” she said.

The situation is difficult and complicated, she added.

“Hamas, Hezbollah — these are evil extremist people and they are committed to destroying Israel,” she said. “And unfortunately for the Palestinians, they don’t really care who they kill, who gets killed as a result of what is going on.”

But “I personally don’t think that Israel is going to be able to destroy Hamas. This can go on and on,” she said.

The only solution she sees is a ceasefire, a return of the hostages, elections in Israel for new leadership, and steps such as stationing the Israeli army around all borders to protect the country.

The topic is still so raw at her synagogue that few people discuss it, she said.

“It’s really hard to talk about Israel because it’s not positive at all. It’s scary and sad and it’s not a topic of conversation that makes us feel good,” she added.

With AP

Josh Dubnau is Jewish, with a mother and grandparents who escaped the Holocaust and other relatives who did not. He says he loves the Jewish people as much as anyone and condemns the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas.

But he says he is horrified by what Israel is doing in response in the Gaza Strip. The images of thousands of children and other civilians killed haunt him.

“I feel a very deep connection to the history and the suffering of Jewish people in the Holocaust and in other times in our history,” said Dubnau, a neurobiologist who is a professor at Stony Brook University. “And it is really that background that makes me appalled at the policies of the Israeli government.”

“One slaughter, one massacre can never justify another,” he added.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The local Jewish community is fractured, with many still supporting Israel’s war against Hamas as Passover arrives and others calling for a ceasefire.
  • A Pew Research Center poll conducted in February found that 33% of American Jews believe the way Israel is conducting the war is unacceptable.
  • “It’s really hard to talk about Israel because it’s not positive at all," one Long Island synagogue member said.

As Jewish people across Long Island prepare for the major holiday of Passover, which starts Monday night with Seder dinners, the community is fractured.

While some fully support Israel’s war in Gaza aimed at eradicating Hamas, others say the bloodshed of civilians has been too great and will not bring peace and security to Israel.

When Hamas launched a surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7, killing an estimated 1,200 civilians and taking about 250 hostage, most Jewish people on Long Island were hesitant to publicly express anything but support for Israel’s counteroffensive, according to community leaders.

But six months later, as the death toll in Gaza has surpassed 34,000, according to officials there, that hesitancy is vanishing for some. They are attending pro-peace rallies, lobbying public officials, and voicing their opposition publicly.

Turning point

For some, a turning point came when Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), majority leader of the U.S. Senate and the highest-elected Jewish official in the nation, gave a speech on the Senate floor on March 14. That day, Schumer excoriated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace in the region and called for new leadership.

Schumer accused Netanyahu of being “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows. Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah.”

A Pew Research Center poll conducted a month before the speech found that 33% of American Jews believed the way Israel is conducting the war in Gaza is unacceptable. An even larger number — 42% — of Jews ages 18-34 felt that way.

Without doubt, the Israeli government’s counteroffensive retains strong support in many sectors of the Jewish community on Long Island.

They contend that Hamas provoked the confrontation with its brutal attack on innocents. They say the Israeli government is in the nearly impossible predicament of trying to root out a terrorist organization embedded among the civilian population, including in hospitals under which Hamas hides in a vast tunnel system.

The offensive is “not an operation for Israel. This is an existential threat,” said Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, head of the Chabad movement on Long Island.

“There is no question that there needs to be sympathy for” the Palestinian civilian victims, he said. “However, there is no easy way of taking Hamas off of the map as long as they are mixed in with the total population.

“All of the war experts that I’ve heard from … have made it clear that according to the normal rules of war, Israel has kept a higher standard than almost any urban conflict in history,” Teldon continued. “Is it perfect? Of course not. There is no such thing as a perfect war. There will always be terrible errors, as we saw with the World Central Kitchen” incident when seven aid workers were killed April 1 in an Israeli strike.

Hostages seem 'forgotten'

Rabbi Michael White, of Temple Sinai of Roslyn, said that as Passover approaches, many Jews on Long Island are feeling “vulnerable and attacked” as the hostages seem “forgotten” by many.

“We are entering a festival which speaks of the liberation of the Jewish people at a time when there are still Jewish people being held hostage by a terrorist death cult,” he said.

“It seems as if the world has forgotten how this conflict began, and instead is attacking Israel at every turn and not remembering that this war started because Hamas broke a ceasefire, massacred people, took people captive, and continues to use its own people as human shields,” he said. “This war would end immediately if Hamas would simply stand down and release the hostages, which it refuses to do.”

The Anti-Defamation League last week reported “a massive spike in antisemitic” incidents after the Oct. 7 attack and Israel’s counteroffensive. The group logged 8,873 incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism against Jews in the U.S. in 2023. That was a 140% increase over 2022 and the highest total since ADL started tracking the data in 1979.

The stakes grew after Iran fired some 300 exploding drones and ballistic missiles at Israel on April 13. Most were shot down, and tensions appear to have at least momentarily cooled, but many fear an escalation could spur a regional war. Iran said it launched the attack after warplanes struck its embassy complex in Syria on April 1, killing seven military commanders. It blamed Israel. Israel retaliated with apparent precision strikes near military and nuclear targets on April 19.

All of the Jewish people on Long Island interviewed by Newsday condemned the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. But critics of the Israeli government contend Netanyahu’s approach in Gaza is leading the country into more war instead of peace.

“I think they are handling it disastrously,” said Kathryn Levy, a poet and arts educator who lives in Sag Harbor. “And I think that Israel has been handling the situation with the Palestinians very badly for decades. And we’re seeing the outcome of that.”

“I believe that basic human rights have to be secured for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people. That would, I should think, be a no-brainer,” she said. “But for years, for decades, basic rights of Palestinians, particularly in the occupied territories, have been denied.”

Levy says she attends a weekly pro-ceasefire vigil on Sunday afternoons in Sag Harbor — one of several Jews in the crowd.

Shift in thinking

Iris Schiff, a member of Temple Isaiah synagogue in Stony Brook, said she was outraged and in tears while watching TV news of the Oct. 7 assault. Her immediate reaction toward the terrorists was “just kill them, just get them. How could they do this to innocent people?”

But the rising death toll has left her saddened.

“I can’t fathom that anybody would want this to continue, where children, family, innocent people, innocent Palestinians are just getting slaughtered and killed,” she said.

The situation is difficult and complicated, she added.

“Hamas, Hezbollah — these are evil extremist people and they are committed to destroying Israel,” she said. “And unfortunately for the Palestinians, they don’t really care who they kill, who gets killed as a result of what is going on.”

But “I personally don’t think that Israel is going to be able to destroy Hamas. This can go on and on,” she said.

The only solution she sees is a ceasefire, a return of the hostages, elections in Israel for new leadership, and steps such as stationing the Israeli army around all borders to protect the country.

The topic is still so raw at her synagogue that few people discuss it, she said.

“It’s really hard to talk about Israel because it’s not positive at all. It’s scary and sad and it’s not a topic of conversation that makes us feel good,” she added.

With AP

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