‘No one is OK’: South Floridians still reeling from deadly attack on Israel
While the world watches the mayhem and destruction unfolding in Israel, South Florida grieves.
On Monday, the death toll topped 1,500 after the brutal attack on Israel by Hamas over the weekend.
Rabbi Jonathan Berkun, spiritual leader of the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, described the emotions many throughout South Florida are feeling in the wake of the unprecedented attack on Israel, one of the deadliest in decades.
“Everyone is absolutely devastated,” Berkun told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Monday. “Deeply concerned. Upset. Angry. Grieving. Everyone has some kind of connection either personally or spiritually to the state of Israel or the people of Israel. This has been an absolutely tragic and shocking and terrible attack on innocent civilians that is beyond anything we could possibly have imagined.”
Berkun says he has friends in Israel who have been connected to his family for generations.
“I’ve spoken with them in the past 36 hours,” he said. “Everyone I spoke to is safe, but not OK. No one is OK. This is not OK. This is unacceptable by any international standard. This was a murderous rampage. We call it terrorism. It was a violent, murderous antisemitic attack, spilling Jewish blood wherever it could be found.”
Rallies are being held in support of Israel from Miami to Hollywood to Delray Beach and beyond.
On Monday night, Hollywood hosted a candlelight vigil at a park to honor the memories of those who were murdered and to give people an opportunity to be together and express their grief.
Before the event, Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy told the Sun Sentinel his brother’s wife lost loved ones, her relatives, during a massacre that took out the entire family — Tamar Kedem-Siman Tov and husband, Yonathan “Johny” Siman Tov, their twin 6-year-old daughters Shachar and Arbel and 4-year-old son Omer.
“They burnt their house down,” Levy said through tears. “And when they tried to escape, they shot them all. An entire family. They lived in Nir Oz, a kibbutz in southern Israel. Please include their names. They deserve to be remembered.”
Like so many, Levy was still reeling from news of the surprise assault.
“I don’t think the world has seen something like this since the Holocaust,” Levy said. “The savagery was made plain to see. And the world needs to know who it’s dealing with.”
‘It could happen anywhere’
Sharon Cohen was one of hundreds who attended the candlelight vigil at Mara Berman Giulianti Park in Hollywood’s Emerald Hills neighborhood.
Cohen’s grandparents once lived in Hollywood and she visited them often as a child. Sitting in the park, surrounded by a grieving crowd, she was overcome with emotion Monday.
Cousins on both sides of her family live in Israel but are safe, she said.
“If something like that could happen there, I hate to say this but … it could happen anywhere,” she said. “I don’t feel like any western country is really safe. Unfortunately, every country has enemies.”
Israeli flags were draped around the shoulders of many who came to the vigil. Some filmed the crowd singing Ani Ma’amin and Acheinu. Friends hugged and greeted each other.
Temple Solel Rabbi Ari Plost said he spoke with colleagues in Israel on Monday who officiated the funerals of children.
“We gather at a time when we have those in our families, those who are close to us are serving or being called up to serve. Wondering how the days ahead will impact them and their lives,” he said. “There is so much darkness that has descended upon us … just after our new year.”
‘Glued to the television now’
Norman Frajman, a 94-year-old Holocaust survivor who lives in Boynton Beach, was 15 years old when he was liberated from a concentration camp by Russian soldiers.
The attack on Israel, he says, reminds him of the hellish horrors of the Holocaust.
“I’m glued to the television now,” said Frajman, president of the Child Survivors/Hidden Children of the Holocaust of Palm Beach County. “This is an outrage. It’s a massacre.”
Frajman says he prays for peace on earth, but fears we may be heading for another world war.
“The consequences are yet to happen,” he said. “The guilty ones will get the punishment they deserve.”
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“It’s a shame that the cradle of civilization is so full of hatred,” he told the Sun Sentinel. “What happened is simply barbaric. People were just slaughtered in the streets. Hamas is a terrorist organization and it controls Gaza. And what they did shows they don’t have any regard for life, whether Jewish or Arabic. They know well enough that Israel is not going to stand by and do nothing.”
Eyal Peretz, an Israeli-American who lives in Plantation, woke up about 5:30 a.m. Saturday to a flood of WhatsApp messages from friends and family in Israel. Then he started reading the headlines.
“I still cannot believe it,” he said. “There’s a lot of horrible footage and stories on social media that are difficult to watch and difficult to read. It feels unreal. This is our 9/11. This is our Pearl Harbor. The hardest thing for us being here is we feel helpless.”
Peretz says he and his friends are doing what they can to help Israel fight back.
“There are a lot of reservists who were called back,” he said. “We sponsored some flights today for people to go back, to allow them to fly from Latin America, the U.S., Miami. Me and my friends are trying to help in any way we can.”
On Tuesday, Peretz plans to help show support for Israel in a more grassroots way.
“I’m going tomorrow to a rally in Miami,” he said.
Bodies paraded through streets
Aventura resident Evan Ross, a longtime Jewish community leader and advocate for Israel, says he felt shock and horror when he woke up Saturday morning to the worst news imaginable — that Israeli civilians were being murdered en masse and their dead bodies were being paraded through streets.
Ross, who has been checking on friends in Israel nonstop since the attack, says he considers many of them to be like family.
One has a son who was supposed to attend the music festival that turned deadly when Hamas made its surprise attack. At least 260 people were killed.
“The son ended up not going,” Ross said. “One of his friends was shot twice and survived. His other friends were able to escape.”
Ross says he has some friends in the reserves who have been called on to fight.
One has a wife due to give birth in a few days. Another works for Google in Tel Aviv. He’s now on the Israel-Lebanon border, Ross said.
“His wife is a dear friend of mine,” he added. “They have young daughters. They spent days in bomb shelters and then he was called up.”
Ross decried the notion of Hamas being called a “militant group.”
“Hamas is a terrorist organization,” he said. “Jewish blood is what they want. What they are going to learn over the next few weeks and months is that Jewish blood is not cheap.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at moc.lenitnesnus@nayrbs. Follow me on X @Susannah@Bryan