Emotional vigil in support of Israel draws hundreds in South Florida

For many, the events happening a world away are personal.

Nepali students hold a candlelight vigil for those fallen in Israel from the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, 2023.

Nepali students hold a candlelight vigil for those fallen in Israel from the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, 2023. Photo by Sanjit Pariyar/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With an Israeli flag draped over his back, Robert Nudel joined hundreds of people at an emotional vigil Monday night in Aventura in support of Israel following this weekend’s surprise attack by Hamas militants.

For Nudel, the events happening a world away are personal. He said his family is mourning the loss of a relative, Yoav Maliev, who died over the weekend. He served in the Israeli Defense Forces. Maliev was 19 years old.

“It’s just very, very tragic,” he told WLRN, adding that he was comforted by the outpouring of so many at the vigil at the Waterways Shoppes in Aventura.

“I see people from all walks of life here to show their support for Israel. This has nothing to do with being Jewish. It’s being human,” he said.

At least 500 people gathered in Aventura in a show of solidarity — and a wish for peace — for the people of Israel.

During the rally, attendees heard from top elected officials and other grieving from the community.

“The last two days have been unprecedented, inconceivable, and appalling — my heart is heavy for the Jewish people across our state and the world,” Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez.

Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Surfside with Nuñez and Israel Consul General Maor Elbaz-Starinsky on Tuesday morning for a press conference. He earlier had ordered flags be flown at half−staff outside public buildings and that the old Capitol in Tallahassee be lit up in blue and white, the colors of the Israeli flag, to honor the victims of the tragedy in Israel.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, also spoke at the rally, saying in a statement that “the attacks on Israel are deeply heart-wrenching and hit close to home within the Jewish community here in Aventura, where we gather in prayer for Israel.”

“I stand in solidarity with the Jewish community here in South Florida, and I will always stand by Israel,” she said.

She also spoke about the kindness and generosity the Jewish community showed her family during the injustices of the Civil Rights era. Wilson’s district represents large swaths of South Florida’s Jewish population – including Aventura, Miami Beach and Surfside.

Monday night’s vigil came in response to this weekend’s surprise attack on Israel by Hamas militants. They fired thousands of rockets and sent dozens of fighters into Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war on Hamas.

The death toll rose to nearly 1,600 on both sides of the conflict. Thousands have been wounded on both sides.

Tens of thousands of Gaza residents continued to flee. The U.N. said Tuesday that more than 187,000 of Gaza's 2.3 million people have left their homes — the most since a 2014 air and ground offensive by Israel uprooted about 400,000.

Supporters of Israel and backers of the Palestinian cause held competing rallies on Sunday in several U.S. cities, including Fort Lauderdale, over the conflict.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported that people attending at two separate rallies, one to “Defend Israel” and the other called “Victory to Palestine,” clashed briefly Sunday afternoon on on Sunrise Boulevard nearly U.S. 1 in Fort Lauderdale. Police reported one arrest.

More vigils are planned in South Florida in the coming days in response to the violence in the Middle East.

Today (Oct. 11) 

  • Cooper City: Stand With Israel Community Vigil, by the Jewish Federation of Broward County. 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 11. Temple Beth Emet, 4807 S. Flamingo Road. More information here
  • Pembroke Pines: Candlelight vigil, presented by the City of Pembroke Pines. 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11. Charles F. Dodge City Center Plaza, 601 City Center Way. More information here.

This story is published as part of a collaboration between City & State Florida and WLRN NewsVerónica Zaragovia covers health care as well as Surfside and Miami Beach politics for the station. Contact Verónica at vzaragovia@wlrnnews.org

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