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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Service in Manhattan mourns the dead in Israel and Gaza, and protests the war

People gather to light candles and recite the mourner’s Kaddish, the Jewish prayer said in honor of the dead, in New York on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023.

By Liam Stack

As dusk fell Wednesday night, hundreds of people gathered in Washington Square Park in New York City to light candles and recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

The event was organized by If Not Now, a Jewish group opposed to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, and doubled as a protest against Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip in response to the attack by Hamas on Saturday. The event drew far more people, including elected officials, than organizers anticipated.

“The answer to all of this grief cannot be mass murder,” one speaker, Rabbi Miriam Grossman, said before the prayer began. “The answer is not and can never be continued occupation, apartheid and the denial of Palestinian humanity. That is not the path to lasting mutual safety or to the healing of our grief.”

The New York region is home to the largest population of Jewish people in the world outside of Israel, and the Hamas attack, which has killed more than 1,200 Israelis, has left many New Yorkers in a state of shock and grief.

The attack also sent shock waves through local politics, cracking open fault lines between two major constituencies: the Jewish community and an energized left-wing political movement that has gained influence in recent years.

Those tensions boiled over in the wake of a rally, promoted by the Democratic Socialists of America, on Sunday in Times Square, where protesters cheered rocket attacks that killed Israeli civilians.

The solemn event in Washington Square Park on Wednesday night offered some elected officials a venue to make a more measured point.

“Every human life is crafted in the image of God,” Brad Lander, the city comptroller, told the assembled mourners. “Every single life lost — every Israeli murdered by Hamas, every Palestinian killed in Gaza — is a human spark that is extinguished. We mourn those human beings, and we mourn the loss of that human spark.”

Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, told the crowd that he was there as a representative of “a city that is home to Israelis and Palestinians, and Jews and Muslims.”

“I am not Jewish and I am not Palestinian, but I am human,” he said. “And I know that death and harm look the same whoever you are. I am asking our leaders to have the courage to lead.”

In remarks after the event, Williams said that the city “was in a lot of grief and a lot of pain,” but that people must not lose sight of their common humanity.

Lander, who is Jewish, put it more plainly. “We can stand up for ourselves and insist that other people see our suffering and our pain, and we can also see the pain and suffering of others, too,” he said. “If we can’t do that, what will become of us?”

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