BALTIMORE - The conflict surrounding Israel and Hamas is thousands of miles away, but its impact stretches all the way to Baltimore’s large Jewish population.
The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore is organizing many efforts to offer support to Israel.
Among the efforts underway locally is a push for people to donate school supplies, stuffed animals and games for children in Ashkelon, Israel bomb shelters, or white t-shirts, socks and travel-sized toiletries for Israel Defense Force soldiers. Ashkelon is Baltimore’s sister city in Israel and an area visited by many locally.
In addition, The Associated is also urging supporter to wear blue and white in solidarity for the people of Israel and to share photos of themselves holding Baltimore Stands With Israel signs they have distributed while using the hashtag #BaltimoreStandsWithIsrael on social media outlets .
Also, hundreds of people turned out to the Gordon Center in Owings Mills Monday for a solidarity gathering for Israel.
“This past few weeks has been a trying time for Israel and the Jewish people,” said Baltimore Jewish Council President Lainy LeBow-Sachs at the gathering. “It is crucial that at times like now each of us stands with our brothers and sisters to support our Jewish homeland. Israel is our special home… When your home is under attack, you have to defend it.
“Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East, is a country in which citizens have freedoms many in other countries are often denied. Israel cannot allow those freedoms to be threatened. Like almost every world leader has said in recent weeks, Israel must be allowed to defend those citizens from those that wish to destroy her.
Support from the Baltimore Jewish community comes as a last-ditch effort by the U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state to broker a temporary Gaza truce was thrown into doubt Friday, as Israeli media reported that Israel's Security Cabinet rejected the plan.
The proposal by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calls for a week-long pause in Israel-Hamas fighting. During this time, the two sides would begin indirect talks on easing the border closure of the blockaded Gaza Strip.
Hamas has demanded that Gaza's crossings be opened. Israel and Egypt imposed the Gaza closure in 2007, after the Islamic militant Hamas seized the territory by force.
Israeli TV reports said Israel's Security Cabinet unanimously rejected the proposal in its current form, mainly because it would mean Israel has to cut short an ongoing effort to destroy Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border.
Israel considers the tunnels to be a strategic threat because Gaza militants have launched them for staging surprise attacks. Israeli troops have so far destroyed about half of the 31 underground passages discovered during the Gaza operation.
Gaza fighting continued alongside the truce efforts. Israeli airstrikes hit more than 80 sites in Gaza, while militants in the tiny Mediterranean strip fired 50 rockets at Israel, the army said.
Among the sites hit in Gaza were 30 homes, including that of a leader of the Islamic Jihad group who was killed along with his sons, Palestinian officials said.
The worst round of cross-border fighting in more than five years has killed 828 Palestinians and wounded more than 5,200, according to Palestinian health officials. The U.N. says civilians make up three-fourths of the dead and a majority of the wounded.
In Israel, 38 people have been killed since July 8, including 35 soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker. Among the injured is 2013 Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate Jordan Low, who was critically injured fighting for the IDF.
The fighting intensified in the region after Israel blamed Hamas for the kidnapping and murder of three teens. Last Monday's gathering came after Baltimore Jewish community held a rally for peace earlier in the month.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, has been an outspoken advocate for Israel’s right to defend itself from what he called terrorist attacks by Hamas.
In letters to President Barack Obama and U.N. Sec.-Gen. Ban Ki-Moon, Cardin stressed that “Israel is undertaking extraordinary efforts to avoid civilian casualties while Hamas cynically uses other Palestinians as human shields and attempts to deliberately kill Israeli civilians.”
“There is no moral equivalent to what Israel is doing and what Hamas is doing, despite what some segments of the foreign press may report,” Cardin told ABC2 News Friday. “There is no other country fighting an enemy like Hamas, that is willing to place civilian lives in harm’s way to protect its missles…
Linda Hurwitz can relate to that. The chair-elect of The Associated said during her recent two-week trip to Israel, she saw 11 rockets fired in her direction.
"As I was leaving after two weeks ago, I give my heart love and support to Israel. "The Israelis give their children and their lives for the right to survive," Hurwitz said. "Children there 14 years or under have never lived without the terror of rockets raining down on them...
"Israel is the size of New Jersey, but it's all that we have as a Jewish people. How do you thank people that live like that and protect homeland. We all feel a solidarity in Israel. It was beautiful to see such a large gathering [in Owings Mills]. We don't want to be at war and care about the lives of all those in Gaza. But Israel has the right to protect itself."
Ruth Marx-Rattner agrees. The Baltimore resident and her husband were born in Israel and still have family over there.
"It's so hard seeing what's happening over there," she said. "We hope one day to see a solution. Having family and friends over there makes it so much more personal."
The Associated launched an Israel Emergency Campaign to provide social service assistance to Ashkelon and other Israeli communities affected by the fighting in Gaza.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.