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Thousands of miles away, pain of attack on Israel ripples through NH Jewish community

Portsmouth Mayor Deaglan McEachern embraces Rabbi Berel Slavaticki during a vigil Tuesday in Newington.
Todd Bookman
Portsmouth Mayor Deaglan McEachern embraces Rabbi Berel Slavaticki during a vigil Tuesday in Newington.

The sound of prayers, mourning and songs of worship filled the air Tuesday evening in Newington, as members of the Seacoast’s Jewish community gathered for a vigil in response to the weekend’s attacks on Israel by Hamas militants.

Inside the Seacoast Jewish Chabad community center, there were prayers offered for relatives and loved ones living in Israel, and a call for resolve in the face of violence.

Ari Alexenberg of Portsmouth spent part of his childhood in Israel and still has family there, including his sister and parents. Alexenberg said as painful as the past few days have been, he and his family are preparing for a drawn out war. But he said the simple act of gathering together offered some comfort.

“As Jews, we are a tiny minority when we are not in Israel,” he said. “New Hampshire, in particular – having everybody come together with similar feelings and support each other – from Jews, non-Jews, the whole community, it’s much needed.”

The event was hosted by Rabbi Berel Slavaticki. He did not mince words about the pain of the past few days for Jews in Israel and across the globe.

“They want to break and destroy our bodies,” Slavaticki told the gathered crowd. “But our hearts, our souls, our spirit, they cannot touch.”

There were calls for the safe return of Israelis taken hostage and prayers for the country’s military. The mother of an Israeli soldier, who lives in the Seacoast and didn’t want her name shared so her son wouldn’t be targeted, said that Hamas must face consequences.

“Call it what it is: It’s terrorism,” she said. “They are not freedom fighters for the Palestinian cause. They are cold blooded murderers.”

People in attendance lit candles and vowed to stay hopeful. And they said as hard as the last few days have been, they are preparing themselves for more bloodshed in the weeks ahead.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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