Philadelphia region reacts, responds to Hamas terror attack on Israel

Isreal Gaza
Friends and relatives of Ilai Bar Sade mourn next to his grave during his funeral at the military cemetery in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, Oct. 9, 2023.
AP Photo/Erik Marmor

People in the Philadelphia region with deep connections to Israel and Gaza have been reacting and responding to the violence in the Middle East since Hamas’s surprise attack Saturday. Nearly 1,600 people have been killed on both sides of the conflict, according to the Associated Press.

Nagi Latefa has not heard from his sister since fighting erupted between Hamas and Israel over the weekend, and he has been praying for the safety of his elderly mother and other siblings, who live in the Gaza Strip.

“It’s scary, frustrating, makes me angry,” said Latefa, who immigrated from Gaza to Philadelphia nearly 40 years ago and now lives in Allentown. “They have no shelters. They have no sirens to escape from the bombing.”

Jason Holtzman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, knows someone who was killed in the attack, and his teenage cousin is part of a local study group that is attempting to evacuate Israel.

“It’s appalling that there are people in the world, and even in our city of Philadelphia, who are celebrating what’s happening as if it’s justified,” Holtzman told Metro. “There really is no justification for murdering innocent people, for kidnapping innocent people.”

Marcia Bronstein, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey chapter, said,“There’s a lot of people who have family in Israel, and whose family and friends are serving in the IDF and protecting the land of Israel, so it’s very personal to a lot of people.

Emotions are also high for Latefa, a civic leader in the Lehigh Valley, and others in the Palestinian and Muslim communities.

“The root cause of this problem is the brutal occupation,” Latefa said. “We cannot sugarcoat anything about this.”

The Jewish Federation’s emergency response fundraising campaign has already generated nearly $1.7 million. Holtzman said most of that money will help support basic needs in Netivot and Sdot Negev, two communities the organization has long partnered with near the Gaza border.

“There’s a great deal of concern about what’s happening in Israel, and it’s not just from the Jewish community,” Holtzman said. “We’re getting support from the wider community as well.”

Vigils and shows of solidarity with Israel are planned over the next few days at synagogues in Lafayette Hill, Bensalem, Elkins Park and Northeast Philadelphia.

The federation planned a rally Monday evening, after Metro went to print, that was scheduled to include remarks from Gov. Josh Shapiro and U.S. Reps. Dwight Evans and Mary Gay Scanlon, among others.

Shapiro, in a message posted Saturday to X, formerly known as Twitter, said that his family “shared many special moments in Israel.”

“These attacks on innocent Israeli civilians are abhorrent and warrant world condemnation and outrage,” he added.

Ahmet Selim Tekelioglu, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Philadelphia chapter, said he is hearing from residents concerned about statements offered by Shapiro and other leaders.

He told Metro that similar comments have not followed civilian deaths in Gaza and the West Bank, and that members of CAIR have been working to explain the context of the situation and educate those around them.

“Our community members are concerned, and they’re concerned particularly that this indiscriminate, sort of blanket support for Israel is going to pave the way for major human rights violations,” Tekelioglu told Metro.