Simchat Torah should have been a day of joyous celebration, dancing and singing, but it was instead filled with grief, shock and mourning over the hundreds killed in Hamas’ strikes on Israel just a day prior.
By word of mouth multiple Riverdale synagogues, hundreds of community members, local electeds and New York officials met at the Bell Tower in Riverdale Sunday evening to both condemn the attacks and mourn those who were lost, with many having friends and family in Israel.
“I think we all woke up and were shocked and horrified,” Councilman Eric Dinowitz told The Riverdale Press on Sunday. “So many of us were calling our friends and in many cases didn’t get answers. And in some cases here, people who aren’t using their phones, will not get answers until later tonight and it adds to the terror of it all.”
In attendance was the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale, Riverdale Temple, Young Israel-North Riverdale, Riverdale Jewish Center, Chabad Lubavitch of Riverdale, SAR. Kinneret Day School and many more synagogues and Jewish institution. According to the Riverdale Y, all of the 16 institutions in the Riverdale Jewish Community Partnership were in attendance.
In addition to Councilman Dinowitz, the event was also attended by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, Assembly members Yudelka Tapia and George Alvarez, district attorney Darcel Clark, Borough president Vanessa Gibson, and representatives for state Sen. Gustavo Rivera and New York attorney general Letitia James.
Together the community, those who are Jewish and those who are not, recited and sang prayers for the health and safety of the people of Israel, and for the safety of women and children who have been kidnapped and subjected to violence. At press time more than 1,000, were reported killed, including 14 Americans.
“I think that people throughout our community, throughout the world, should understand that we’re dealing with good versus evil,” said Assemblyman Dinowitz told The Press. “The people who did this are evil, they’re animals and I don’t hesitate to use that word. We just heard today they butchered 260 young people at a concert.”
The incident the Assemblyman was referring to what took place near the Gaza-Israel border at the Tribe of Nova music festival, celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. More than 50 armed Hamas arrived in vans and motorized paragliders shooting and hurling grenades, an ABC TV affiliate reported. Eyewitnesses told the Tablet Magazine several women were raped and kidnapped. The death toll is expected to rise.
“I think about if 260 young people were killed,” Assemblyman Dinowitz said, “how many hundreds of mothers and fathers lost their child? And that’s only one part of it. And then they kidnap people, they kidnap people? Those are war crimes what they did. Those are war crimes and we should make no mistake about it. That’s exactly what it is.”
While in one part of the city people stood in solidarity with Israel, others stood opposite hours earlier. The New York City Democratic Socialists of America gathered Sunday in Times Square in solidarity with the Palestinian people and “their right to resist 75 years of occupation and apartheid.”
In a social media post, the DSA condemned the killing of all civilians, but said it is imperative for international human rights law to be respected.
“This was not unprovoked,” the DSA wrote on social media. “For over 60 years, Palestinians have faced ethnic cleansing, torture, bombings, and housing demolitions. Gaza is still under a blockade.”
Supporters of Palestine shouted things like “Free Palestine,” “Resistance is justified when people are occupied,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
“Early morning on Saturday, October 7, our resistance stormed illegal settlements and paraglided across colonial borders and to the largest military base around Gaza,” a Pro-Palestian speaker said to cheers in a video posted to social media.
Another Pro-Palestian speaker, Eugene Puryear, referencing the massacre at the Tribe of Nova music festival, called the victims “hipsters.” The mention of Hama militants taking them out, was met with cheers by a nearby crowd.
The protests were met by animosity by many electeds and state officials. U.S. Rep. Torres said the “from the River to the sea” chant is a code for wiping Israel from the face of the earth.
He said that for the NYC-DSA the “occupation” is Israel itself, and that ending that occupation would mean ending Israel.
“Never mind the hundreds of Israeli civilians and children who have been murdered, wounded, abducted, and terrorized.
Their lives mean nothing to the DSA. Nothing,” Torres stated. “The NYC-DSA is revealing itself for what it truly is: an antisemitic stain on the soul of America’s largest city.”
Mayor Eric Adams, who recently took a trip to Israel in August, also commented on the protest in Times Square that moved to outside the Israeli Consulate General’s Office.
“At a moment when innocent people are being slaughtered and children kidnapped in Israel, it is disgusting that this group of extremists would show support for terrorism,” Adams stated. “I reject this. New York City rejects this.”
The Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, alongside state committee member Michael Heller, have called upon elected officials who have either supported or been endorsed by the DSA to denounce them immediately. They, as well as Assemblyman Dinowitz, have also condemned statements made by The Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Racial & Economic Justice.
Jews for Racial & Economic stated that while the attacks on civilians by Hamas aren’t justifiable, they weren’t unprovoked, saying this has been the deadliest year for Palestinians in decades of occupation.
In a statement, The Jewish Voice for Peace wrote, “The Israeli government may have just declared war, but its war on Palestinians started over 75 years ago. Israeli apartheid and occupation – and United States complicity in that oppression – are the source of all this violence. Reality is shaped by when you start the clock.”
Israeli forces have killed more than 800 Palestinians in retaliation to the attack on Saturday, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. The death toll is expected to rise.