While protesters staged outside of U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres’ Fordham office Tuesday afternoon accusing him of supporting “Israel’s genocide,” a much larger group of rallygoers, made up of the SAR community and local electeds gathered at Seton Park to say they disagreed.
Principal of SAR High School, Rabbi Tully Harcsztark never met his grandmother because in 1944 she was deported from the Lodz ghetto. He grew up in a house haunted by the trauma of the Holocaust, but he thought the new world he was born into was one that had brought an end to 2,000 years of Jewish discrimination and persecution.
He said that perception, however, was shattered on Oct. 7 when Hamas launched an attack on Israel that has since killed more than 1,400 Jewish people.
“Never before did I really allow myself to think that perhaps our world is moving backwards, back to those dark days of 80 and 100 years ago,” Harcsztark said. “These thoughts enter my mind, but I push them aside. We must push them aside.
“Today, we stand strong. We stand strong because over these 75 years, the Jewish people, with God’s help, have built a miracle of a country, a country with military might and Jewish pride unparalleled in the history of Am Yisrael. I push these fears aside as I look out on almost 1,000 students and staff marching proudly for Medinat Yisrael and the Jewish people.”
Harcsztark, in addressing the congressman, said that Torres gives them strength through his support for the State of Israel, even despite intense criticism and physical threats directed at him.
“Congressman Torres, you inspire us with your shared commitment to the principles of democracy and your belief in the dignity of every human being,” Harcsztark said. “Congressman Torres, you give us confidence through your unwavering belief that the Jewish state and the Jewish people have a right to defend themselves against those committed to their annihilation.”
The principal was not alone in his words. SAR High School students Alex Wolf and Ananya Silverman took turns reading from a prepared speech.
“We are living in a broken world,” Wolf read. “We are living in a world where Hamas commits genocidal atrocities and yet Israel is accused of genocide. We are living in a world where terrorists are called legitimate freedom fighters, and legitimate armies trying to defend their people are called terrorists. We are living in a world where Israel has to defend defending itself.”
One constant in that broken world, Silverman read, is Torres' unwavering support to Israel and the Jewish people in his district.
“We are gathered here today in a peaceful counter-protest against those calling Congressman Torres ‘wanted for genocide’ for his support of Israel,” Silverman read. “Despite death threats and aggressive opposition, Congressman Torres has stood in steadfast support of Israel and the Jewish people. It is crucial to stand up to terrorists, to speak out against evil, and Congressman Torres has not stayed quiet.”
The students said they do not feel protected in America as Jews, citing an Israeli student being brutally attacked outside a library at Columbia University, and an Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity at the University of Pennsylvania being vandalized.
“(Torres) called on other members of Congress to speak out against terror, comparing the situation in Israel to 9/11. Just as Israel renounced terrorism after the attacks,” read Wolf. “So it is now the duty of the United States to stand up against terror in support of Israel. Congressman Torres spoke of the importance of responding to terror, and not giving in to fear. We must not back down against terror. We must stand up in America for Democratic values, and we must stand with the State of Israel.”