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Nevada's Jewish community mourns, vows support for Israel amid war

Smoke rises from an explosion caused by Israeli airstrikes on the border between Egypt and Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.
Hatem Ali
Smoke rises from an explosion caused by Israeli airstrikes on the border between Egypt and Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.

Hundreds of community members from around the Las Vegas Valley gathered at Temple Beth Sholom this week as part of a vigil for those who have died from the recent violence in Israel.

The death toll on both sides has soared to over 2,500 dead. At least 25 Americans are among those who have been killed.

Fighting, tension and hatred in that part of the world is nothing new. However, the scale of this fight has drawn the world's attention. The U.S. gives Israel about $3 billion in military aid; it's now talking about increasing support for this conflict.

All of which makes people wonder how this will end. And just three years ago, Israel and Palestinian leaders signed an accord to foster peace. What happened to that—and what led to this massive attack? And just how far will the U.S. go to support Israel?

U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D–Nev.) states that support is as strong as ever. Rosen, who previously served as president of the largest synagogue in the state, Congregation Ner Tamid, called the attacks heartbreaking and said that the U.S. will stand with Israel while they wage war on Hamas.

"History has shown what happens when the world abandons the Jewish people," said the senator in a statement. "The United States stands with Israel now and always. I will stand up to anyone, including extremists in my own party, to see that American support for Israel remains unwavering."

For some in the community, the violence currently going on in Israel is just the latest example of a long history of violence in the region.

Brian Greenspun's father, Hank Greenspun, ran guns for the Israelis during their fight for independence in the 1940s. He said this time feels different.

"My mind goes back, obviously, to the beginning of the State of Israel …" he said. "I think of all the conflicts, existential and otherwise, that Israel has faced just trying to survive. This is not that. I don't believe that this is existential. I believe this is the most barbaric, horrific, inhumane attack on the on the people of Israel that I think anyone's ever witnessed."

According to UCLA Professor of History James Gelvin, there are likely several reasons for the escalation in violence. A lot of it comes down to the fundamental imbalance in the relationship between the Israeli and Palestinian people.

"The Israeli police have raided Al-Aqsa Mosque twice in the last several months, which is a holy place in Jerusalem for Muslims. The economic conditions in Gaza have worsened. [The] situation overall is extraordinarily bad for Palestinians, particularly in terms of a right-wing government that has taken power in Israel. There have been actual pogroms in various Palestinian towns by settlements that are expanding, but I think the key to understanding what's going on now has to do with the Abraham accords," he said.

The accords, signed in 2020, set the stage for improved relations between Israel and some of its neighbors, namely the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Negotiated under the Trump administration, the accords were successful because they largely bypassed the Israeli-Palestinian question, which had been the major hurdle in previous peace talks.

Some, including Aziz Eddebbarh, a former spokesman of the Muslim Public Affairs Council and a Las Vegas Interfaith Council member, argue that it gave the conservative Israeli government the greenlight to further crackdown on Palestinians living in Gaza.

"I'm really concerned about the loss of life …," said Imam Abdal. "I'm really concerned about how the international community, especially the United States, have been doing non-service to Israel and [the] citizens of the area by emboldening one side to go on with impunity oppressing people for generations. Then I'm concerned about doing the same thing and expecting different results."

One thing we do know about this war. More people are likely to die. That says Rabbi Benjamin Zober of Temple Sinai in Reno is the ultimate tragedy.

“There are people on both sides are suffering and are not being served by more bloodshed or more pain,” said Zober. “We do need peace. We desperately want peace. It is something that has to come, but it can't come through more violence or more anger, or most critically more dehumanization.”

“When we fail to see that, that divine spark in another, that humanity that we share, we often allow ourselves to commit horrific acts,” he continued. “Anytime there is an escalation of violence, we start to hear that and it’s one of the most dangerous and lamentable things that comes out of this.”

Guests: Brian Greenspun, CEO, Greenspun Media Group; James Gelvin, Middle Eastern history scholar, UCLA; Benjamin Zober, rabbi, Temple Sinai in Reno

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.
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