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Friends and neighbors help Jewish, Israeli communities (literally) stop and smell the roses

“Failing to stand proudly with Israel on the side of truth is a blot on the Christian community,” said Grace Bydalek, who delivered white roses to Manhattan synagogues.

A temporary memorial at the New Synagogue (Neue Synagoge) in Berlin to the victims of Hamas's Oct. 7, 2023 terrorist attacks in Israel, photographed on Oct. 21, 2023. Credit: Achim Wagner/Shutterstock.
A temporary memorial at the New Synagogue (Neue Synagoge) in Berlin to the victims of Hamas's Oct. 7, 2023 terrorist attacks in Israel, photographed on Oct. 21, 2023. Credit: Achim Wagner/Shutterstock.

In the month since Hamas terrorists attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,400, wounding thousands, and kidnapping as many as 240 others, non-Jewish neighbors and friends worldwide have expressed their support for Jews and for Israel in tangible ways. In many places, these allies have let 100 flowers bloom—albeit, cut ones—at or outside synagogues, Israeli diplomatic buildings and other Jewish organizations.

“Thank you, people of Azerbaijan, for your support and friendship,” wrote Yoav Bistritsky, deputy Israeli ambassador in Azerbaijan. He posted a photo of flowers and candles left outside a gate with Israeli flags in the capital of Baku.

A mom wrote on social media that her high school senior asked to bring flowers to the local synagogue “because of what Hamas terrorists did to innocent civilians.” Though the family is Roman Catholic, she wrote that New York University is no longer on her child’s list of college applications, saying: “We stand with Israel.”

“Curious as to the response,” Republican political consultant Nathan Wurtzel wrote back on Oct. 16: “We generally don’t do flowers.”

She said the recipients appreciated the gesture. “The synagogue is a lovely part of our neighborhood, and we cherish the community,” she wrote.

“That’s good. Nice of you to do,” responded Wurtzel, whose bio identifies him as “Jewish/Zionist. Republican political consultant, blue-collar division. Baseball card collector.” (Wurtzel died suddenly less than a week later.)

Other stories abound on social media and in the news of non-Jews delivering flowers, notes of sympathy and other signs of support to Jewish organizations and synagogues. The Swedish entrepreneur Olof Appleton sent 900 roses to the Israeli embassy in Stockholm days after Oct. 7. (The number then corresponded to the known death toll, which has since risen above 1,400.)

Sophia Nelson, a columnist, wrote on Nov. 4 about going to her first service at a synagogue, in Leesburg, Va., for a bar mitzvah, and “a wonderful woman named ‘Peggy’ walked up to me and said, ‘I brought these flowers to bless this house of worship in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters.’” In late October, David Frum, the former speechwriter to President George W. Bush, posted a photo of flowers placed on the site of a destroyed synagogue in Freiburg, Germany.

Freiburg roses
Roses on the synagogue fountain in Freiburg. Credit: Uellue/Shutterstock.

“Our synagogue is next to a church. The pastor came over to offer support. We had two armed guards,” another user wrote on social media. “All along the walkway were flowers, notes, Israeli flags, support from others from our town. It was a surreal experience.” (Many of those from whom JNS sought comment declined to interview, citing concerns about their security.)

Many users posted about leaving flowers at their local synagogue “in memory of the  people who lost their lives” and “to let the local community know they are not alone.”

“A non-Jew dropped off flowers at my synagogue to show support. What a beautiful world,” one user posted. “We will never forget the people who reached out and spoke out during this time.”

“A beautiful act of human compassion and solidarity. It means so much to us,” wrote another of flowers at a synagogue in the United Kingdom.

Flowers were also delivered to synagogues in Dublin, Tbilisi (Georgia), and Sydney and to the Israeli consulate in St. Petersburg.

“I was in Dublin for a meeting this morning and went by a local synagogue to drop in some flowers. It had 6-foot-high wooden gates with spikes on the top and a sentry booth inside those,” wrote one user. “What sort of a country is this in which a place of worship needs these precautions?”

Another wrote that his church was one of many that sent white roses to local synagogues “to show honor to and to stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Real Christians honor and respect Jews.”

The white roses were an Oct. 26 initiative of the Philos Action League, which wants U.S. Jews to know that they have friends. Those affiliated with the Philos Action League delivered white roses—a reference to the White Rose group that resisted the Nazis—to synagogues and other Jewish institutions in 179 U.S. cities.

They send “a powerful message of solidarity and friendship, emphasizing that the Jewish community is not alone in these times of darkness and loss,” the Philos Project stated in a release.

Tbilisi synagogue flowers
Flowers and candles as part of a memorial near the synagogue in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Oct. 15, 2023, days after Hamas’s brutal terror attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Credit: sirArtur/Shutterstock.

“At this moment, it is imperative that Christians physically show up to support Israel and the Jewish community,” Luke Moon, deputy director of the Philos Project said in a statement, noting the global rise in antisemitism. “The Jewish community needs to know who their friends are now more than ever. As Christians, we must stand with the Jewish people and Israel. Christians in the past remained silent, and we refuse to do that again.”

A bit nervous

Ilona Chebotareva told JNS that participating in the Philos “Day of Action” gave her “an understanding and awareness of antisemitism in the Pacific Northwest region,” where she has lived for a long time.

First, she brought flowers to a Chabad-Lubavitch center and felt “an overwhelming sense of love and conviction,” she said, adding that she was a bit nervous. Subsequently, she has brought flowers to three Jewish communities—this time with “a clear head.”

Chebotareva spoke with people she visited at a synagogue in Tacoma, Wash., and got a sense from other community members who came to show solidarity. “It was a beautiful coming-together for support,” she said.

When she visited a Seattle synagogue, Chebotareva came upon a vigil. Being able to participate in that communal moment of mourning “was very special,” she told JNS.

“Being part of a group, a collection of people; it’s a movement,” she said. “My one-off experiences were amplified, thinking maybe in this same hour, maybe someone’s doing it in Indiana, in D.C., in Alabama—in the same spirit and mindset, having the same heart for it. So that adds to it.”

Participating in the day of action has helped Chebotareva become more compassionate and courageous, she thinks. “I’ve built incredible relationships with people in the Jewish community,” she said.

‘Bond of love’ 

In statements that Philos provided to JNS from some of the participants in its day of action, good samaritans described a sense of mission and moral calling. 

“I delivered white roses to synagogues in my neighborhood—New York’s Upper West Side—to signal Christian support for the Jewish people,” said Grace Bydalek, director of the Dissident Project, which trains speakers to address students.

“There is no moral ambiguity in this conflict. There has never been a clearer line between good and evil,” Bydalek said. “Failing to stand proudly with Israel on the side of truth is a blot on the Christian community.”

Katelyn Brantley Woodward, a mother of two in Washington, D.C., found it moving to deliver the white roses “as a symbol of the past and present support of Christians for the Jewish people.”

“I loved the chance to take my son and daughter as well, and share with them how God loves the Jewish people and how we as believers share a laying bond of love and friendship with them,” she added.

Philos told JNS that Jewish recipients appreciated the roses and shared five “thank you” notes sent by Jewish communities. 

“In a world where unity and understanding are more crucial than ever, your support provides us with the strength and motivation to continue,” the staff at a North Carolina synagogue told Philos. “We are deeply grateful for your friendship and partnership in the fight against antisemitism.”

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