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People of all faiths pack San Antonio synagogue for Israel solidarity vigil

Rabbi Chaim Block and Rabbi Tal Shaul lead a prayer.
Jia Chen
Rabbi Chaim Block and Rabbi Tal Shaul lead a prayer.

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The Jewish prayer to mourn the loss of a loved one is not one meant to be chanted alone.

Traditionally, it's only said when there's a gathering of at least ten people.

"But this community, which is tens of tens of tens — Jewish people, non-Jewish people, old people, young people, middle-aged people — we're here together to support each other, to mourn, to think about the lives that we've lost too soon,” said Rabbi Mara Nathan of Temple Beth El in San Antonio, one of the oldest congregations in the U.S.

She led an interfaith vigil in a sobering chant of "The Mourner's Kaddish," a 2,000 year old prayer written in Aramaic.

Its words held bitter and tragic significance amidst recent news reports of violence and destruction of biblical proportions.

Israeli air strikes rained down on Gaza in a show of force that will “reverberate for generations” — only the first step in the fulfillment of a promise made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avenge terror attacks by Hamas militants.

Hamas gunmen entered Israel from land, sea and air, and they targeted civilians — women, children, and the elderly. More Jews were killed in Saturday's assault than in any single day since the end of the Holocaust.

"There can be no equivocation. Tonight we stand with Israel. One month away from Kristallnacht to the day, we’re gathered here faced with unspeakable tragedy, loss, and shattering,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Bexar County Judge Peter Sakai, and Congressman Joaquin Castro were also among the hundreds who gathered at Temple Beth-El to show their support for Israel and San Antonio’s Jewish community.

"While no words of comfort or condolences will right the horrific wrongs we've witnessed over the past few days, blessed is the true judge,” Nirenberg said. “The strength of millions of Jews around the world is on full display as we speak. And in turn, the world is rallying around the innocent of Israel."

At the vigil, there were prayers for the Palestinian civilians in Gaza — also seen as the victims of Hamas terrorists.

Hamas is threatening to execute the Israeli civilians it captured. A new Israeli blockade has cut off power, food and water supplies to Gaza.

The Israeli military said it has largely regained control of areas in the south that had been attacked by militants from Hamas. The announcement came on the fourth day of war with Hamas.

"These are difficult times. The world is hurting. We are hurting,” said Nammie Ichilov, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio.

"We are here together to be able to acknowledge that nobody should have to go through this alone,” he said.

The vigil on this dark night in the Alamo City was far from the battlefields of Gaza. But the people here held the victims close to their broken hearts, and they desperately prayed for the dawn of peace.

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Jia Chen is a freelance journalist and photographer for Texas Public Radio. She began with TPR working as the Bexar County selected Summer Arts Intern in 2021. Her coverage includes arts & culture, technology, politics, and more. She holds a BA in Communication from University of Texas at San Antonio and has lived in San Antonio for over 20 years.