Human Chains, Empty Shabbat Tables and Ambulance Fundraisers. How Local Jews Help Israel

The empty Shabbat table at Independence Hall (Courtesy of Dafna Ofer)

“I learned that Hamas had attacked Israel on Oct. 7 when I woke up. I spent the next several hours watching television and doom scrolling. I realized that I could not just sit around and watch anymore.”

Many Jewish Philadelphians have told that story in recent weeks. Many have also acted by rallying, posting and doing whatever they can to help Israel.

These efforts are ongoing. Here are a few of the many examples we’ve heard about:

The Human Chain in Lower Merion

On Oct. 22 at 11 a.m., 800 people formed a chain along Montgomery Avenue in Lower Merion. They stood for 90 minutes and held up posters of Israeli hostages. About 4,000 cars drove by, according to E.B. Devir, the Jewish Lower Merion resident who organized the chain.

Hamas is still holding more than 200 hostages.

“Maybe we can apply media pressure to help the hostages,” Devir said.

The Mother Who Voiced Her Displeasure to the Philadelphia School Board

After the Hamas attack, the School District of Philadelphia sent out a statement to parents signed by Superintendent Tony B. Watlington Sr. It did not condemn Hamas or even mention the Jewish community.

Diani Safdeye, a Jewish resident of the city with a child in the district, was “disturbed,” she said. She attended the district’s next public board meeting to voice her displeasure.

“A complete and thorough condemnation of the evil perpetrated by Hamas is essential,” Safdeye said. “How else can you teach our children right from wrong without being able to call out evil when you see it? How else can the district claim to be committed to promoting peace, understanding and tolerance when it can’t even call out terrorism and antisemitism?”

In 2022, the district sent out an email “sympathizing with Ukrainians” after the Russian invasion, the mother said. Two years earlier, it did the same with the Black community after George Floyd’s murder.

“I’m entrusting them with teaching my kids not only math and science but how to be a good person,” Safdeye added.

The Congregation that Raised Enough Money to Buy an Ambulance

Magen David Adom is Israel’s ambulance service. The American Friends of Magen David Adom is an American organization that raises money to buy those ambulances.

On Oct. 16, Rabbi Shai Cherry of Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park sent out an email to his 300-plus member congregation asking congregants to donate money to buy an ambulance. By the synagogue’s Friday night service, it had $115,000. Almost 100 people gave.

“We’re all in this together,” Cherry said.

The rabbi will give the money to the American Friends of Magen David Adom. The organization will then work with an automaker to build the ambulance. The process takes about 10 months.

“It felt great to be able to make a contribution that is forward-looking,” the rabbi said.

The empty Shabbat table at Independence Hall is set for 224 seats to represent the number of hostages. (Courtesy of Dafna Ofer)

The Empty Shabbat Tables

Groups of Israeli and American Jews have coordinated in WhatsApp on various efforts to help the Jewish state. The latest one is a pair of empty Shabbat tables that will raise and maintain awareness of the hostages.

One stretches across Independence Mall in Philadelphia. The table is set for 224 to represent the number of hostages. There are high chairs, children’s cups and white roses.

Another is on the front lawn of Adath Israel on the Main Line. This one has 222 seats. On the back of each one is a photo of a hostage with his or her name. It also says “Hostage” or “Kidnapped” in “big letters,” said Yedida Goldman, a Bala Cynwyd resident and organizer of the table.

Goldman said it’s important to place the table in a spot with foot traffic. She also emphasized that the hostages are from “33 different countries” and “different religions.”

“It keeps it in people’s minds,” Goldman said. “It makes people realize this is a serious concern for Americans and not only Jewish Americans.”

The Outpouring of Poems and Prayers

Ritualwell, a part of Reconstructing Judaism in Wyncote, is an online resource for Jewish poems and prayers. Since the Hamas attack, Ritualwell has collected and posted 60 new poems and prayers “generated by readers,” said Bryan Schwartzman, Reconstructing Judaism’s spokesman.

They include “prayers for peace and the return of hostages and laments for the dead,” he added. Ritualwell’s “traffic spiked 60%” in the week after the attack, according to Schwartzman. “There’s a need for the clarity of poetry, sincerity of new prayer and community,” he said.

If you have a story about any action you’ve taken to help Israel, reach out: [email protected]. We may include it in a future roundup.

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