The Raphael brothers
The Raphael brothersKan News

Kan reports that Jewish communities in the United States of America have begun forming local emergency squads in the wake of the Hamas invasion of Israel and in light of the rising antisemitism in their country.

Yoel and Liel Raphael, two Jewish residents of Rockville, Maryland, say that Jewish and Israeli symbols have become targets. "On Yom Haatzma'ut, I usually fly an Israeli flag outside my house. This year, my wife and I decided it was better to refrain."

"There are five synagogues within walking distance, as well as the Jewish Community Center (JCC). A rapid response is imperative. The more guns we have in Jewish possession, the better."

Members of the community have had swastikas painted on their cars and mezuzahs (a holy scroll traditionally affixed to the doorpost of Jewish houses) torn off. Idan Shalom, another local resident, commented, "People didn't know me as a Jew, only as a neighbor. Now they look at me as an enemy. This shows that the equation is changing, and hatred is reaching everywhere. It's frightening."

"Our mezuzah symbolizes part of who we are, and tearing it down is like tearing off a part of us. It is a slap in the face. They hate us here, but we are not going anywhere."

Idan and his wife have taken several precautions. "I have a pepper spray pistol, a knife, and a taser. I go out to walk the dog dressed for battle. When the dog looks behind me, I look too."

Within minutes of the vandalism of the mezuzah having been discovered, a large crowd of local residents gathered in the street outside as a show of support. Gil Preuss, head of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, commented "There are a lot of people here who are trying to spread hate. We have to be careful not to fall into that trap. What we are seeing now is definitely antisemitism from the pro-Hamas community, in many different forms."

Not all of the attacks are violent. Riki Alkovi, who ran an Israeli restaurant in Rockville along with her husband, says that they saw posts on Instagram declaring that the restaurant was owned by two Israelis who supported terrorism and population transfer of Palestinians, and calling to boycott the business. "Customers stopped coming to our restaurant. We had plenty of Palestinian customers here, we had workers here - Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian - and I never thought this would happen here."

Although the community has since come together to support the restaurant by specifically giving it a large amount of business, Riki feels that her sense of security has been lost. "I decided to get a gun license because I realized I might have to defend my workers."

Huge rallies supporting Hamas have been held in Washington recently. Here too, the Jewish community has taken steps to counter the phenomenon, scheduling counterprotests which are expected to be significantly larger to show that the majority of the community supports Israel. Gil Preuss commented, "I firmly believe that it is a small group of people that is causing trouble and fear for the rest."

The Raphael brothers commented that they intend to join such rallies, and have equipped their Humvee - originally a recreational purchase - with prominent Israeli and American flags as a symbol of defiance of the pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

The idea of community preparedness, and firearms ownership in particular, has gained considerable traction since the war broke out. Adi Uliel, another woman from the community, says that she has owned a handgun for some time previously, but only when the war began did she consider using it. "For years, I refused even to touch it. When the war started, I decided I wanted to know how to use it. I went to practice at shooting ranges. Knowing that I can protect my family is a great feeling."

Community emergency squads are common in many places in Israel, with the government providing residents of different localities with training, armor, and weapons to allow for a rapid response to terrorist activity. Several hundred such squads have been established since the war broke out, and many existing ones have been reinforced or given new equipment. In some communities in southern Israel, such emergency squads are credited with engaging Hamas forces and saving most of the population of their town.