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‘My heart aches’: War between Israel, Hamas roils Mass.; elected leaders decry attacks on civilians

Northeastern University working to evacuate three students from Israel; Brandeis professor emeritus lost daughter and son-in-law in attack

Smoke rose following an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City on Sunday. The militant Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip carried out an unprecedented, multi-front attack on Israel at daybreak Saturday, firing thousands of rockets as dozens of Hamas fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border in several locations, killing hundreds and taking captives. Palestinian health officials reported scores of deaths from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.Hatem Moussa/Associated Press

The outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas this weekend has roiled Massachusetts, where there are many local ties to that part of the world. Residents scrambled for updates from family and friends, security was stepped up at synagogues, advocates for Palestinians and Israelis planned rallies for Monday — all as the scope of the conflict’s bloody toll began to emerge.

The death toll surpassed 1,100 Sunday — at least 700 killed in Israel and over 400 more in Gaza. And thousands more have been wounded.

Among the dead were the daughter and son-in-law of Ilan Troen, a longtime professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, said according to Ron Liebowitz, the school’s president.


Troen, a Brandeis professor emeritus who retired in 2017, and his family “have long been treasured members of the Brandeis community, and we hold Ilan, his wife Carol, and his entire family in our thoughts,” Liebowitz said.

Troen, a pioneer in the field of Israel studies, was born in Boston and graduated from Brandeis in 1963, according to the university. He founded the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies in 2007.

Joyce Antler, a Brandeis professor of Jewish cultural history and women’s studies, attended the university with Troen and later was his colleague there.

She was devastated by news that he had lost family members.

“I’ve been there to his home and I know how close he lives to the border,” Antler said. “They’re a very close family … the loss of his daughter and son-in-law will be felt tremendously.”

In Israel, families are being split up as reservists are called up to fight Hamas and spouses remain behind, often with young children to care for.

Ben Mendales, 39, a Lexington High School graduate, has been called up to join the armed forces, while his wife, Alexandra Fred Mendales, 39, and the couple’s two young children took shelter in a safe room inside their home in the suburbs of Tel Aviv.


“I just don’t understand how something like this can happen and I don’t know how to explain this level of evil to the kids and don’t want to,” said Alexandra Fred Mendales, who is from Chicago, in a WhatsApp message shared with the Globe Sunday.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston has planned a rally for Monday at noon at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common. Governor Maura Healey is expected to be among those attending, according to the governor’s office.

“I’m holding the victims of this violence and their families in my heart, and praying for the safety of the people of Israel,” Healey said in a statement.

The JCRC and Combined Jewish Philanthropies said in a joint statement that they stood with Israel.

“We are horrified at these brutal acts of terrorism, aggression, and destruction and we will work tirelessly to ensure that our friends and family in Israel know that we are with them,” the statement said.

A protest in support of Palestine organized by BU Students for Justice in Palestine is planned Monday at 4 p.m. in front of Cambridge City Hall. “Long live Palestinian resistance,” the organizers said in an Instagram post.

Massachusetts Peace Action condemned “the use of violence against Israeli and Palestinian civilians” and called for a ceasefire in a statement.

“Current US policy sustains violence in Israel-Palestine. A just peace requires a fundamental change in that US policy,” the organization said in a statement.


Greater Boston is home to the fourth-largest Jewish community in the country, according to Brandeis University.

And in Massachusetts Sunday, authorities were stepping up security as a precaution.

The Massachusetts State Police Commonwealth Fusion Center, Watch Center and Anti-Terrorism Unit were monitoring developments related to the attacks on Israel, according to David Procopio, a State Police spokesperson.

“At this time we are aware of no specific or credible threats related to that conflict made against locations or groups within Massachusetts,” Procopio said in a statement.

An Israeli strike destroys the Palestine Tower in the Rimal neighborhood in the central Gaza Strip on Saturday.Loay Ayyoub/For The Washington Post

Boston police increased their presence around synagogues and other houses of worship while monitoring unfolding events in Israel, said Mariellen Burns, a police spokesperson. Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said police had increased patrols around synagogues, shuls, and temples.

Massport officials were also watching the situation in Israel, according to Jennifer Mehigan, an agency spokesperson, as some flights to Israel were canceled.

Local elected leaders, including Healey, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, and the entire 11-member congressional delegation, decried the violence and loss of life among Israeli civilians.

“We share in the grief felt by the Israeli community of Boston, the broader Jewish community, and all who are mourning innocent lives lost throughout the region. We join in prayers for peace,” Wu said.

US Representative Jake Auchincloss of Newton compared the fighting in Israel to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which drew the United States into World War II.


“Peace is the ultimate objective, but peace is not possible when terrorists take hostages,” Auchincloss said.

US Representative Katherine Clark of Revere, who serves as the House minority whip, also condemned the attacks by Hamas.

“We unequivocally support Israel’s sovereignty and its right to defend itself,” Clark said.

Local universities were in contact with students studying abroad in Israel.

Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, president of Hebrew College in Newton, said the school has been in contact with roughly one dozen students studying abroad in Jerusalem.

“They are shaken but safe,” Anisfeld said in a phone interview Sunday evening.

She said the school planned a morning prayer service and vigil for Monday morning.

“I’m just praying for a safe return home for [those taken hostage],” Anisfeld said.

Northeastern University was working Sunday to evacuate three students who were studying in Israel when the violence broke out, the university said in a statement. They are safe and have been in contact with their families and the school administration, the statement said.

The violence has hit close to home among many in the region’s deeply rooted Jewish community.

The hardest part for Ben Mendales has been to leave his family to serve in the Israeli armed forces, according to his father, Sam Mendales of Cambridge.

Sam Mendales, who is married to a former Globe reporter and editor, said his 7-year-old grandson was in tears when his father left.

“They’re facing an outrageous situation with a lot of guts because being afraid doesn’t mean you’re a coward if you continue to act,” Sam Mendales said in a phone interview. “He left the people he loves the most in the world to do this.”


Sam Mendales’s daughter-in-law, Alexandra Fred Mendales, wrote to the Globe as her two young children were trying to sleep nearby. Her husband, Ben, doesn’t know how long he’ll be away, she said. Schools are closed.

She has been able to leave her children with a babysitter to make a quick trip to the store for food. But people worry that’s not safe, and some have scolded her for going outside.

She feels hurt by what she called a “lack of empathy” for the plight of Israelis online. She struggles as she watches images of people being taken away as hostages.

“My heart aches. It’s unimaginable, seeing footage of the dehumanization of innocent people and children ripped away from their parents,” she wrote.

In Newton, Gilad Jacobs said he has been in contact with his sister and her three young children, who have been taking refuge in a safe room inside their Tel Aviv apartment.

Jacobs’s brother-in-law is also a reservist, and had to leave his family behind to join the war effort, he said.

In exchanges over WhatsApp texts, photographs, and a few FaceTime video calls, they’ve described hearing the roar of rockets and the sounds of explosions outside their home, Jacobs said.

It has been difficult for his sister, he said in a phone interview.

“Scared, really scared. Maybe in shock still a little bit,” Jacobs said. “It’s going to take a couple more days for everything to sink in.”

Correspondent Bailey Allen contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in it.

John Hilliard can be reached at Daniel Kool can be reached at Follow him @dekool01. Nick Stoico can be reached at Follow him @NickStoico.