Locals respond to ‘distressing updates from Israel’

The Mercer Island School District and Mercer Island Jewish community have reached out to their members during a global crisis.

The Mercer Island School District and Mercer Island Jewish community have reached out to their members during a global crisis.

A war between Israel and Hamas rages on following the Palestinian militant group’s Oct. 7 launching of deadly air strikes on Israel and invasion of the country.

Mercer Island’s Stroum Jewish Community Center posted the following message on its Facebook page on Oct. 7: “At tragic times like this, we want to strongly affirm our support for the State of Israel, its right to exist and to defend itself as a sovereign nation. As we continue processing the news of these terrorist attacks, may everyone in Israel and those of us around the world who feel connected to Israel, feel strength through our global community.”

The Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation of Mercer Island posted a photo on its Facebook page of someone’s arm strongly hoisting an Israeli flag surrounded by the words: “With Israel We Stand.”

Over at the Mercer Island School District, Superintendent Fred Rundle released a letter to the school community regarding the conflict.

“Our hearts are with our students, staff, and families impacted by the horrific events in Israel and Gaza that began over the weekend. This is a scary and emotional time, especially for our Mercer Island community who is so connected to this part of the world,” the statement reads, in part. “We are focused on supporting our students studying in Israel this semester, reaching out to families directly affected, and connecting with community partners such as the Jewish Community Center. When students return to school tomorrow, our staff will be ready to assist them in any way they need us.”

Rabbi Nissan Kornfeld, director of Chabad Mercer Island, invites community members who are in need of company during these challenging times to visit them for a cup of coffee, prayer or reflection.

“The distressing updates from Israel weigh heavily on our hearts. In times like these, we can make a difference through Mitzvot –- good deeds. Pray, lay Tefilin, give to charity, light Shabbat candles; these are spiritual tools to support those in harm’s way,” he said.

To help manage students’ and staff’s grief and stress, Northwest Yeshiva High School (NYHS) on Mercer Island received a visit from three therapy dogs from Assistance Dogs Northwest on Oct. 10. Head of School Rabbi Yehuda Gabay said the dogs’ presence was a welcome and heartwarming distraction that matched smiles with wagging tails.

Sivan Komatsu, NYHS’s social-emotional support coordinator, said that Assistance Dogs Northwest’s generous crisis response program is valuable for students and staff by providing “the positive, research-backed mental health benefits of therapy dogs, such as the increase in our ‘feel-good’ chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.”

“Our students are processing a lot in a short period of time right now between what they are hearing and seeing on the news and social media. It is a lot to deal with for anyone in the Jewish community right now,” Rabbi Gabay said. “We will navigate our way through this one day, and even one class period at a time, and we’re also considering ways that we might modify our day to help with stress management.”

To view a NYHS special message to support families and friends living and serving in Israel, click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shVZr1P9_rI

Mercer Island’s Washington State Jewish Historical Society wrote on its website that it stands in solidarity with Israel, grieves the loss of life, wishes for quick recoveries for the injured, and for the safe return of the missing.

“We are horrified by the surprise attack carried out by terrorist group Hamas, which has resulted in mass murder, rape, kidnapping, and other crimes against humanity directed at Jewish and Israeli people, with many others caught in the crossfire,” the statement reads. “History has taught us that silence toward acts of violence such as this is detrimental to global peace. We must loudly and intentionally speak out against these acts in order to cultivate a better world.”

Mercer Island Mayor Salim Nice, who is the first Ismaili mayor in the United States, and Mercer Island Deputy Mayor Dave Rosenbaum, who is an active member of the Island Jewish community, released the following joint statement via Nice’s X (formerly known as Twitter) page on Oct. 10:

“Mercer Island stands in strong and unequivocal support of the Jewish Community and the State of Israel. We are mortified by the heinous terror attacks perpetrated by Hamas against innocent Israelis and pledge to support our local Jewish community throughout these unprecedented and terrifying times.

“We are united, the first Ismaili Mayor in the United States and the son of a Rabbi, to denounce these abhorrent actions and call for our community to support our Jewish neighbors, so that Mercer Island remains a community grounded in unity and safety for all. We encourage all Mercer Island residents to stand against hatred, prejudice, and violence in all its forms and promote understanding, dialogue, and peace among all community members.”

Out of an abundance of caution and due to community safety concerns during the Israel-Hamas war, the Mercer Island Police Department informed the public on Oct. 12 that it would dispatch extra officers to patrol the Island and conduct high visibility and proactive patrols.

Superintendent Rundle noted in another letter to the school district community on Oct. 12 that they would station a school resource officer at Mercer Island High School at the start of the Oct. 13 school day and the officer would later be positioned at Islander Middle School.

The police department also planned to periodically patrol the school and district facilities parking lots to provide assistance and extra support.