Israeli flags at a rally in San Francisco's Union Square, Sept. 18, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Israeli flags at a rally in San Francisco's Union Square, Sept. 18, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

UPDATED: Bay Area groups plan solidarity, prayer events for Israel as reactions pour in

Updated Oct. 13 at 1:02 p.m.

Bay Area Jewish organizations and congregations are quickly organizing community gatherings in support of Israel as the shock and grief over the deaths, injuries and kidnappings continue to grow.

Messages of support for Israel, which is at war following an unprecedented Hamas attack from Gaza on Saturday, have also streamed in from California politicians, Jewish organizations and synagogues.

More than two dozen community events took place Sunday through Thursday across the Bay Area in support of Israel.

UnXeptable, the Bay Area-based group of Israelis living abroad, is organizing a “Bring Them Home” rally for the people taken hostage by Hamas. The rally, sponsored by a dozen local groups, is set for noon to 2 p.m. Friday at San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza.

Berkeley-based Wilderness Torah will host an online community vigil at 4 p.m. Friday.

Among the elected leaders who released statements after the attack was U.S. Sen. Laphonza Butler, who was sworn in Tuesday to replace longtime Jewish Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who died Sept. 29. Butler called the attacks “cowardly.”

“I am shocked and horrified by today’s coordinated terrorist attacks on Israel and its innocent civilians by Hamas. I condemn this cowardly attack during the Shabbat and Simchat Torah and the 50th Anniversary of the Yom Kippur war,” she said in posts on X.

“As its strongest and closest ally the United States must stand strongly with Israel as it defends itself against this act of aggression and I will work in the U.S. Senate with my colleagues to ensure support for the Jewish State of Israel.”

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla said he was “appalled by the horrific acts of terrorism.”

“I condemn these attacks by Hamas terrorists and stand firmly with our ally Israel, who has every right to defend itself,” he said in a post on X.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the House, said security must be “swiftly and permanently restored” in Israel.

“The terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israel, including against children and civilians, are monstrous and unacceptable,” the San Francisco representative said in a post on X. “We all join in condemning this assault and praying for the lives lost. The US stands unwaveringly with Israel and supports her right to defend herself.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, former U.S. senator from Oakland whose spouse is Jewish first gentleman Doug Emhoff, said in a post on X that they are both praying for Israelis.

“Doug’s and my prayers are with the victims of the heinous terrorist attacks in Israel. @POTUS and my support for Israel’s security is unwavering.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom called for an end to the violence.

“What we are witnessing is nothing short of horrific. Women, children — innocent people — being targeted with brutal acts of terrorism by Hamas. All on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War,” he said in a post on X. “There is simply no justification for this. I stand with Israel and its people in denouncing this horrific act of terrorism. We must demand an end to this violence — now.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who visited Israel earlier this year, likewise condemned the attacks.

“These attacks against Israeli citizens are horrific and the loss of life is heartbreaking to witness,” she said in a post on X. “I stand with our Bay Area Jewish community and all those condemning these terrorist attacks.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who is Jewish, described the invasion as terrorism.

“I stand with the people of Israel in this terrible time. The Hamas attack is terrorism, pure and simple. We must all stand with the innocent victims of this unprovoked act,” he said in a post on X.

State Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, who co-chairs the California Jewish Legislative Caucus, said in a post on X that the “threat against Israel’s right to exist is real. Israel has every right to defend itself & end this attack. I stand with Israel.”

He added in another post: “What’s happening in Israel is not a ‘both sides’ situation. I’m a vocal critic of the current Israeli government, including its settlement policy. But nothing — nothing — justifies this terror invasion by Hamas & the butchering & kidnapping of Israeli soldiers & civilians.”

The California Legislative Jewish Caucus, which consists of 18 state Senate and Assembly members, said it is grateful for President Joe Biden, Harris, Butler and Padilla “who have spoken out clearly and unequivocally in support of Israel at this difficult moment.”

“Nothing can justify this brutal and grotesque violence. Israel has the right and responsibility to defend its civilians. …. We are praying for the safe return of hostages, for healing and comfort for the thousands who have been wounded or have lost loved ones, and for peace and security. We stand with Israel.”

Marc Levine, director of the Central Pacific region of the Anti-Defamation League, focused on describing Hamas and Israel’s right to fight back.

“For those unfamiliar with the rulers of Gaza, Hamas is akin to al Qaeda and ISIS,” he said in a post on X. The “murder and hostage taking of Israeli civilians is a war crime. It is hell bent on the destruction of Israel and has never pursued peace. Israel has every right to defend itself.”

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund said it stands in “total and complete solidarity” with “our beloved Jewish state.”

“We pray for their safety and will do everything we can to ensure the complete and total success of their efforts. … The Federation is in constant contact with our Israel office and colleagues on the ground, all of whom say, ‘friends, we are experiencing something we never did before,’” the Federation said. “The scale of the destruction is unfathomable.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area said it “unequivocally” condemns the attack on Israel and is “unwavering” in its support of the Jewish state.

“We thank the Biden administration, world leaders, and our California and Bay Area leaders and friends for speaking out to stand with the people of Israel during this difficult time,” the JCRC said. “We are reeling and mourning. …. We know this will not dampen Israel’s resolve to stand united against terror, defend its borders, and meet this deeply challenging moment.”

UnXeptable, the Israeli pro-democracy movement formed by expats living in the Bay Area, said that it “stands in solidarity with our families and friends in Israel” and that the protests in Israel and worldwide are “postponed until further notice.”

“Our hearts go out to all those facing terror, uncertainty, and grief. Our thoughts are also with the soldiers and reservists who are playing a leading role in our movement and are now reporting for duty to defend the country. We stand in solidarity with the Israeli security and aid forces on the ground, rescuing, evacuating, and taking care of the casualties,” the group said in a post on X. “Please stay strong.”

Jewish Silicon Valley condemned the attack and noted its support for Israel’s right to defend itself.

“Today and every day, we wish for peace and safety in the land of Israel, and happiness for all its residents,” the group said. “Am Yisrael Chai.”

San Rafael-based JIMENA said the deaths are more than numbers.

“They represent our loved ones — our children, parents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, spouses, cousins, siblings, and grandparents. We recognize that a significant number of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews in the USA have immediate family in Israel,” JIMENA said. “Some of you are in mourning, and we stand with you in solidarity, holding each of you in our thoughts and prayers.”

The JCC East Bay in Berkeley described this as a “wrenching day of seriousness and solidarity. The horrific attack on Israeli citizens from land and sky, with Hamas terrorists murdering civilians and taking numerous hostages, leaves us feeling dark and uncertain. … We have all hoped for peace, and pray for the safety of Israel.”

The Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto called it a “terrible and wrenching moment for all of us. Many of us have loved ones, friends and colleagues in Israel and are desperately worried for them. Many of us strongly feel the bonds of peoplehood with those affected and fear for their safety. And for all of us who have hoped for a peaceful path forward in the conflict, this is a very dark day.”

Rabbi Dana Magat of Temple Emanu-El in San Jose said, “Words cannot describe the pain and upset we are feeling watching and reading what is going on in our beloved Israel.”

He passed on a message from the senior rabbi of the Daniel center in Tel Aviv, Rabbi Meir Azari, who wrote: “Please join me in praying that the violence will not expand to other fronts; that our soldiers defending our citizens return home safe, and in memory of the children, women, men, and soldiers who have already paid a dear price. In this time of conflict, there is no right or left. There is just the Israeli nation that is once again called upon to defend our homeland.”

Daisy Pellant, head of school of Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, reiterated support for Israel.

“We stand with peace. We stand with Israel as a safe, independent, and democratic country. We stand with our family and friends who are living in fear, confined to bomb shelters.” She also noted an immediate increase of campus security. “We will take time to address and process this with our students on Monday morning,” she said.

The support for Israel on Saturday was nearly unanimous.

Berkeley-based Jewish Voice for Peace, the anti-Zionist organization that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, noted that “Palestinians, Israelis and all of us with family on the ground are terrified for loved ones. We grieve the lives of those already lost and remain committed to a future where every life is precious, and all people live in freedom and safety. “

However, JVP’s statement also condemned Israel.

“The Israeli government may have just declared war, but its war on Palestinians started over 75 years ago. Israeli apartheid and occupation — and United States complicity in that oppression — are the source of all this violence. Reality is shaped by when you start the clock.”


Natalie Weinstein
Natalie Weinstein

Natalie Weinstein is J.'s copy editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at CNET News and, in the 1990s, as a reporter and editor at J., which was then called the Jewish Bulletin.