“06880” reader Sue Sirlin was in Temple Israel yesterday, when a lunch meeting was interrupted by 2 intruders.
She’s had 24 hours to reflect on those harrowing minutes. Here is her report:
Yesterday, Temple Israel hosted a “Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces” luncheon that drew 100 participants from around Fairfield County. FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors to provide for the education and well-being of those who serve in the IDF, as well as their families. Our goal was to learn how we can support the IDF, and about its vital programming to keep Israel and, consequently, the US safer.
I was one of many participants enjoying the event. We were eating, mingling and listening to a handful of speakers present their stories on the importance of protecting the liberty of Israel’s citizens. A fighter pilot spoke about his experiences flying during combat in Israel. A female sergeant and a general spoke as well. Unfortunately, the event was cut short…
Within moments, our peaceful gathering shifted abruptly. The far doors to the Social Hall rattled, and a sizable commotion behind those glass-paneled doors ensued. Muffled shouts erupted from behind them. I saw a belligerent man violently struggle to gain access to the room. Someone restrained him from behind.
They wrestled for about 15 seconds — long enough for us to register the scene. The demonstrator shouted, “Long live Palestine! Long live the Intifada!”
The women closest to the doors reacted first, pushing themselves from the table and fleeing quickly to the other side of the hall. Then in a blurred moment, many fled from the room, myself included.
A few women gasped “Call 911!” while others cried. Many of us spontaneously consulted each other to determine where to escape. No one was certain how many men were there.
Thoughts ricocheted through our minds: Were they armed? Were they terrorists? And most importantly, where in the temple were they? As a result, we were unsure of where run or take cover. It was chaos.
In that surreal blur, we experienced firsthand what Israelis live with daily: the panic in a moment’s notice of something signaling danger, not knowing what might happen next. Ironically, we were there yesterday as Israel’s fellow congregants, financial supporters, loyalists — from a supposedly safe, yet empathetic, vantage point. Or so we thought.
Fortunately, the 2 intruders were not armed. They were subdued immediately by 3 brave temple staff members who reacted with great speed and strength. The police arrived within minutes of the call, and took control of the situation. And no one was injured. Thank goodness.
Yet Temple Israel and its preschool were on lockdown, as were Coleytown Middle and Coleytown Elementary Schools, Bedford Middle School, and the Unitarian Church preschool. In that hour, how many lives were shaken by these 2 radical 25-year old men?
Reflecting back on yesterday’s events, a deep anger wells up inside. During those moments we were not permitted to hear what we wanted to hear, to congregate at our FIDF event. Our liberty was limited by 2 men’s wrath.
I later learned that the FIDF speakers did continue after the police cleared the building. I wish I could have stayed to hear what they had to say. Shockingly, I later learned that one of the intruders wore a Jewish star around his neck. How could someone who identifies himself as Jewish threaten fellow Jews?
One thing is certain: My appreciation and empathy has deepened toward our Israeli friends’ needs. I will never stop supporting them, in any way possible.