By Michael Sudhalter
Rabbi Sidney Zimelman has endured sleepless nights since Hamas terrorists launched a series of brutal attacks that killed more than 1,200 Israelis Oct. 7.
“I couldn’t sleep for two days — I had nightmares,” said Zimelman, 90, the former rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth, who was among the 400 people at the Community Wide Solidarity Vigil for Israel on Tuesday night at Beth-El Congregation.
The event was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County.
The tragic events of the past week have been deeply personal for Zimelman, who lost many relatives in the Holocaust.
Zimelman was 5 years old in 1938 when his family fled their small town in Poland for the safety of Canada and, eventually, the United States, where he served in the U.S. Air Force. The whole town, including many of his relatives, were massacred there on Aug. 17, 1942.
Although the focus of the event was the inspirational and moving words and songs of clergy and public officials, it was also the stories of attendees’ personal connections to Israel and past tragedies.
The service struck a chord with Lani Gordon and Roy Aldaba of Arlington. Gordon is the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and Aldaba is a U.S. Army veteran who has experienced war firsthand.
Tarrant County Jewish Federation Executive Director Barry Abels held back tears as he opened the service.
“The last time we gathered like this was for celebrating Israel’s 75th anniversary, but now we’re here for something quite the opposite,” Abels said.
Last weekend, Abels was traveling to Houston to visit his elderly parents and his Israeli nephew, who was visiting Texas.
“When my nephew learned what was going on, it was his priority to get back to Israel to join his unit,” Abels said. “It hit me then, when I was driving him to the airport, that I was sending him off to war.”
Abels then read the diary of his brother, who lives in Ashkelon, one of the Israeli cities hardest hit by rocket fire.
“The word barbaric does not begin to describe these atrocities,” Abels said. “If this is not a wake-up call to the United Nations and the world, I don’t know what it is. Israel must have our unwavering support.”
Texas State Representative Craig Goldman, a Beth-El member and Fort Worthian, shared that the Texas State Legislature unanimously approved Houston Resolution 10; after passing it, a photo was taken with Goldman and all of his fellow legislators. He sent that photo to friends in Israel, some of whom he has known since he traveled there on a trip as a teenager in the 1980s.
Goldman also expressed his gratitude to the Texas Senate and Governor Greg Abbott for their support of Israel.
“We don’t comprehend [the tragedy] of what happened in Israel – we don’t grow up with such hate,” Goldman said. “We know why the State of Israel is so important to us and we will continue to speak up.”
Elizabeth Beck, a Fort Worth City Council member and Beth-El member, also addressed the service.
“What happened was unthinkable and horrific,” Beck said. “When Israel is attacked, our Jewish identity is attacked. We are grateful to show our support.”
Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said the City Council “is completely unified” in its support of Israel.
“We will surround our Jewish community with love, support and protection,” Parker said. “We are praying for families and for the immediate safe return of the hostages. We must take sides, as neutrality helps the oppressor. We must not give up on our most important ally — the nation of Israel. We must stand united as a city, state and country.”
Fort Worth Assistant Police Chief Joseph Sparrow, who has served on the force since 1995, promised his department’s support.
“We have your back,” Sparrow said. “It’s a terrible thing that happened and my wife has been crying every day.”
Sparrow went on to speak about God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people.
Beth-El Rabbi Brian Zimmerman was honored that his congregation hosted the event. Zimmerman recited Shechinah, Source of Life and also explained Kaddish to the diverse audience.
“In Israel, everybody knows someone who lost someone,” Zimmerman said. “There’s a power in bringing people together. Our community was here as one and it’s more powerful than I imagined it could be.”
Zimmerman was especially moved by the fact that the leader of the Islamic Association of Tarrant County attended the service.
“It meant so much — it means we won’t be governed by fear,” Zimmerman said.
Ahavath Sholom Rabbi Andrew Bloom, an Israel Defense Forces veteran, recited Psalm 83, and Michael Olson, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, offered a prayer.
Makom Shelanu Cantor Sheri Allen sang “Heal Us Now” and collaborated with Cantor Elisa Abrams-Cohn and Cantor Shoshana Abrams Kaikov by concluding the service with a beautiful rendition of “Hatikvah.”
Jewish Federation of Tarrant County Associate Director Howard Rosenthal read a passage called “War on Simchat Torah” and Congregation Beth Israel (Colleyville) Rabbi Robert Jacobs recited El Maleh Rahamim. Rabbi Levi Gurevitch, Chabad of Southlake, read Mi Shebeirach for Israeli soldiers.
Members of the interfaith community, Christians, Muslims and numerous state- county- and city- elected officials were in attendance — an affirmation of solidarity, with the victims of terrorist attacks and the people of Israel.