Local updates connected to the Israel-Hamas war

By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer

‘We feel you have our back’

“We had been in the restaurant — it was a Friday afternoon bar mitzvah. We work all together, and it was a nice party,” chef/restaurateur Uri Arnon told 150-plus community members after the Israeli dinner he prepared for them with sous-chef Hila Septon and help from local volunteers. Arnon talked about the day before the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre.

“Two waiters asked me to go early because they had to go south to a very nice party. It was the Nova Festival. From there, they have never come back. Two girls.”

Seven months into the Jewish state’s war with Hamas — with about 130 hostages still held in Gaza, an estimated 30 of which are dead — the JCC’s Israel at 76 program May 14 was a time for sharing.

Israelis who visited Dayton shared their cuisine along with stories of trauma, survival, and gratitude. Jewish Daytonians and allies shared their solidarity with Israelis through these dark times.

“Now, in the Western Galilee, we still feel the war. We specifically live under the line of evacuation, but you hear all the time the bombs,” Arnon said. The Western Galilee is connected to Dayton via the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership2Gether program. “I want to thank you for the support of Israel. We feel you have our back and it’s very good for us.”

Along with Arnon and Septon, the JCC, through the Jewish Agency for Israel, also brought two IDF soldiers to Dayton, Lt. Cmdr. Roi Friedlander and Sgt. Maj. Ohad Goldenberg.

Goldenberg fought off terrorists holding hostages at Kibbutz Be’eri, among the sites where the Hamas massacre began. There, Hamas terrorists slaughtered 100 people — women, children, toddlers, an infant. Thirty kibbutz members were taken as hostages to Gaza. Six were murdered there in captivity, 13 were released in November.

“It’s very important for me to say a lot of heroes didn’t come back from the battles of Oct. 7,” Goldenberg shared.

Friedlander described Be’eri as “one of the worst places to be on earth that day.” A friend of his, a navy SEAL, lost his life there, when he turned to save the life of another wounded soldier. Friedlander, a former SEAL who is a reservist with special forces, was first sent to Kibbutz Nir Oz to try to save whoever was left.

When the terrorists saw his special forces helicopter arriving at Nir Oz, they fled back to Gaza.

“We did see things that I don’t think you want to hear,” Friedlander said. “We also had moments when we saw families survive.”

His unit was then sent to join the taskforce in Be’eri. “Somehow, we survived that.”

In a subsequent operation, he was shot in the shoulder and hospitalized for a month. He’s still under treatment.

“It’s good to see a Jewish community that’s a strong community,” he said of his time in Dayton. “It’s an amazing site. We’re strong together, celebrating holidays together. It’s very heartwarming. You stand up.”

Friedlander noted that IDF soldiers do feel support from Jews across the Diaspora.

“Getting letters in the hospital, from a Jewish school in Toronto, in the States, in London — most of the people in the hospital, they’re always in pain. But it’s like this couple minutes when someone cares about you.”

“We see countries where the Jewish communities don’t support us,” he added. “To see what’s happening in Europe and other countries, how antisemitism, antisemites have no shame. They lift their heads up and they say the stuff that they say and nobody has courage to say something back. That’s hard to see.

“But when we see the Jewish community rise up and say, ‘You can’t say this stuff in 2024, you can’t be antisemites and get away with it,’ that warms our hearts. That’s what keeps us going. That is felt very very strongly in Israel.”

Seinfeld protest before Dayton show

Protesters outside the Schuster Center before Jerry Seinfeld’s 7 p.m. show April 19. Photo: Sam Dorf.

Approximately a dozen people protested against comedian Jerry Seinfeld outside the Schuster Center before his sold-out 7 p.m. show there on April 19.

Greater Dayton Peace Coalition and Gem City Action promoted the protest on social media with language that read, “Dayton Doesn’t Tolerate Hateful Zionist Racist,” and “Genocide Isn’t A Joke.”

Sam Dorf, a member of the Anti-Defamation League’s regional board representing the Dayton area, had tickets to the 7 p.m. show. “I don’t mind protestors or critiques of Israel,” Dorf said, “But singling out a Jewish comic who is not here to talk about Israel is beyond. This is antisemitism.”

He noted there was a strong police presence at the protest and that during the show, Seinfeld “did address the fact that there were protesters outside and made some quip about comics not having any power.”

On May 12, dozens of students, some with Palestinian flags, walked out of Duke University’s graduation ceremony when Seinfeld delivered the commencement address.

The comedian doesn’t bring Israel and the Middle East into his act. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre, Seinfeld has shown strong public support for Israel. In December, he visited Israel and met with people whose family members are being held hostage in Gaza.

No incidents at protest rally in front of Wright State

A protest rally May 4 in front of Wright State University organized by Students for a Democratic Society. Photo: Samantha Daniel.

There were no incidents when Wright State University’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, with support from Greater Dayton Peace Coalition, drew approximately 50 people to its Rally for Solidarity with Gaza, Saturday, May 4 on the sidewalk at the Col. Glenn Highway entrance to the campus west of Center Park Boulevard.

More than half of the protestors appeared to be students. With the university’s graduation ceremony held the weekend before the rally, the start of the summer semester yet to begin, and sporadic rainstorms that afternoon, the protesters stood alone. Occasionally, drivers honked their horns in support.

There was no visible police or security presence at the rally and no counter-protesters.

According to its social media post promoting the rally, Wright State’s SDS selected May 4 for the protest because it’s the anniversary of the shootings at Kent State University in 1970, when members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State demonstrators protesting the Vietnam war, killing four and wounding nine students.

“Stand with us in memorial of the lives lost and in solidarity with the encampments and global struggle for a free Palestine,” read a Wright State SDS post promoting the rally.

Along with signs urging Wright State to disclose and divest from any investments in Israeli companies and companies with connections to Israel, other messages included “Long Live the Student Intifada,” “Never Again Goes for All People: Jews for Ceasefire,” “54 Years Since Kent State Massacre. Same S—,” and “Jews, Muslims, Christians and all people of conscience united against the Ideology of Zionism.”

As reported by the Ohio Capital Journal, Ohio Revised Code Section 9.76 prohibits state agencies such as universities from contracting with companies that are boycotting or disinvesting from Israel.

Miami University encampment
Students for Justice in Palestine at Miami University in Oxford led a march for Palestine May 2 and set up an encampment at the school’s academic quad.

The Miami Student reported that a group of counter-protesters in support of Israel stood nearby the encampment. One student held a half Israeli/half United States flag.

“We’re here to show pro-Israel presence,” he said. “We want to make sure that Jewish students here on campus are unafraid. We’re going to show our pride and make sure that pro-terrorist sentiments are put to rest.”

On threat of suspension by Miami University, those in the encampment voted to disband two days later.

Whitney Lacefield Fisch, executive director of Hillel: Miami University, posted on social media May 6 about an incident connected to its Holocaust remembrance program.

“During Hillel: Miami University’s annual Reading of the Names for the Yom Hashoah program we hold in the middle of campus every year, one of our students who was reading the names of victims of the Holocaust was interrupted by a vicious visiting professor who yelled, ‘Are you going to read the names of the 40,000 dead Gazans?!’ Of course, the wonderful Devra Sadler (Hillel assistant director) and Miami police stepped in to stop this woman but so did a student who is also a member of Miami University’s Students for Justice in Palestine group.

“He told this grown woman that she was being totally inappropriate and needed to leave. He then told Hillel staff that MUSJP had sent a message to their members that morning explicitly telling them to leave our program alone — that it is a sacred space and shouldn’t be interrupted. And don’t worry — this woman’s contract was not renewed, and she will no longer be a member of Miami’s campus moving forward. Administration was so on top of this as soon as I reported it. #thereishope”

‘Still work to be done’ at Bethel Local Schools

A social media post that StopAntisemitism alleged on Dec. 4 was made by Bethel H.S. teacher Sevinch Abbasova.

You may recall The Observer’s report in January that Bethel Local Schools Superintendent Matthew W. Chrispin sent district families a letter Dec. 4 to inform them the district was “actively investigating the details” of “controversial posts shared by one of our employees on their personal social media platform.”

The superintendent’s letter came a day after StopAntisemitism posted screenshots of what it claimed were two posts from Bethel High School English language learner teacher Sevinch Abbasova’s social media sites.

The first equated Israel’s operations in Gaza with the Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp complex.

The second showed an individual with a blurred-out face holding a sign that read, “There is blood on your hands” in what appears to be a school classroom. The letter A in the word hands is rendered as a Jewish star.

At the time, Chrispin declined to be interviewed by The Observer, stating in an email that the investigation was still in process. “I assure you that we are working diligently to conclude the investigation promptly.”

Jewish families in the district have told The Observer that the superintendent never communicated the results of the investigation to parents.

He also declined to respond to The Observer’s subsequent requests for updates about the investigation’s outcome.

But a local rabbi received an email from Chrispin May 8 in which he addressed the investigations’ results.

“While I am unable to disclose specific details due to privacy and confidentiality reasons, I can assure you that appropriate actions were taken in accordance with our school policies and procedures,” he said in the email to Temple Israel’s Rabbi Tina Sobo.

The rabbi had emailed Chrispin May 7 because she was surprised to see on social media that Abbasova would oversee Bethel Local Schools’ May 9 Multicultural Night.

Sobo has congregants whose children attend Bethel Local Schools.

In her email to the superintendent, the rabbi wrote that those congregants have expressed concern over the event “as a potential means for Abbasova to further antisemitic tropes.”

“I certainly hope those fears do not come to fruition and I would like to give them what assurance I can that the program has been planned thoughtfully,” Sobo added.

In his response back, the superintendent told Sobo, “given the concerns raised, it is imperative that the Jewish community is represented and included in the event.” Chrispin shared contact information with Sobo for “those in the Jewish community interested in participating.”

Chrispin declined to reply when Sobo followed up, asking him, “As the program is currently planned, prior to my email, would students see the Jewish community represented equitably at this event, or are you saying that the representation will only occur if it is arranged by me/my congregation within the next 24 hours?”

After Multicultural Night took place May 9, Sobo said the Jewish students she knows in the district didn’t attend “as they did not feel confident that it would be a safe environment for them.”

She has arranged a meeting with the superintendent, accompanied by Dayton Jewish Community Relations Council Director Jeff Blumer.

“Clearly there is still work to be done within the district,” Sobo noted.

If you experience or witness antisemitism
Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton CEO Cathy Gardner urges anyone in the Dayton area who has experienced or witnessed antisemitic acts or expressions to contact her at cgardner@jfgd.net.

“I encourage you to also report it to the ADL at adl.org/report-incident,” Gardner said.

To read the complete June 2024 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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