Israel-Hamas war hits close to home for St. Louis’ Jewish community
For Jewish people around the world, Oct. 7 was supposed to be a day of rest and celebration. In Israel, as well as in St. Louis, Jewish people observed the Sabbath and the religious holiday of Simchat Torah. But the day became one of horror.
That morning, Hamas fighters staged a coordinated attack in southern Israel against civilians and soldiers, killing around 1,200 and taking more than 200 hostages inside Gaza.
St. Louis resident Galit Lev-Harir was in Israel that day visiting her extended family. Her nephew, Rohn, is a combat medic in the Israeli military who was on leave for the holiday. That morning, he was supposed to join Lev-Harir’s family at synagogue.
Instead, Rohn rushed into action.
“Rohn volunteered to be one of the people to go in and help evacuate the wounded,” Lev-Harir told St. Louis on the Air, recounting her experience in Israel that day. “Their vehicle was hit by an anti-tank missile. The anti-tank missile grazed the right side of his body and hit the soldier sitting opposite him. The other soldier was killed instantly, and Rohn was thrown out of the vehicle.”
Rohn survived, but he lost his arm in the explosion. For Lev-Harir, her nephew’s near death was just one part of Oct. 7’s aftermath. More details steadily came to light about the massacres carried out by Hamas and the hostages under its control. She said it was difficult to return home to St. Louis.
“Everyone, such as my work colleagues, and my friends, were just going about their daily life as though nothing had happened,” she said. “I was so upset and distraught.”
In the two months since Oct. 7, Israel has waged an offensive to destroy Hamas. Its military struck residential buildings from the air and entered Gaza on the ground, killing thousands of Hamas fighters. Israel’s counterattack also killed more than 15,000 Palestinian civilians in Gaza, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, and has created a United Nations-sanctioned humanitarian crisis for Gaza’s population of 2.3 million.
In the St. Louis region, supporters of Israel and Palestine have organized multiple demonstrations since Oct. 7.
Protesters against Israel’s war have continued to call for a cease-fire. While Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire last month, in a deal that included the release of more than 100 hostages, the calm lasted only a week before the fighting resumed.
The subject of a cease-fire — and negotiating with Hamas to return the remaining hostages — remains a source of tension within the Jewish community. In St. Louis, Tasha Kaminsky created the group Henini, which represents Jewish St. Louisans supporting a cease-fire.
“I saw in the aftermath of Oct. 7 that there would be another military response to what had occurred. This is an ongoing pattern,” she told St. Louis on the Air. “I saw that there was a silence that needed to be filled, and that there were Jewish people looking to fill that silence. So I wanted to make a resource for them to find one another, and to gather together and to advocate, in a Jewish way, for a cease-fire.”
The group’s advocacy included a “Ceasefire Shabbat” event last month, which brought people together, “both Palestinian and Jewish,” Kaminsky said. “We prayed for peace and for happier days together.”
Henini’s name is derived from the Biblical Hebrew phrase “Here I am.” The group maintains that a cease-fire is the way forward for both Palestinians and Israelis, and that Jewish people should feel safe to advocate for it. A recent Instagram post by Henini stated: “You do not have to choose between your Judaism and Palestinian liberation."
“What I was trying to say was that you’re not alone,” Kaminsky explained. “If you want a cease-fire and you're Jewish, there are other Jews right here in St. Louis who want the same thing as you.”
To hear more from Tasha Kaminsky and Galit Lev-Harir, including insight into Oct. 7’s impact on the Jewish community, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast or by clicking the play button below.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.