Editor’s note: This is the transcript of remarks the Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners gave at a meeting on October 19.
This is our first Commissioners meeting since the horrific terrorist attacks on Israel committed by Hamas on October 7. Before I begin my remarks, I would ask that we observe a moment of silence for those murdered and kidnapped on that day.
On October 7, as Jewish people around the world had wrapped up the celebration of Sukkot, a holiday of joy and harvest, over 1,300 people were barbarically killed by the terrorist organization, Hamas.
Another 200 people were kidnapped and taken hostage, and many others were injured and maimed. Most were Israeli, but some from other countries, including the United States. Babies, children, women, senior citizens: No one was spared from the horror of this attack.
To provide some context, 1,300 people is about the individual size of three different Montgomery County municipalities: Bryn Athyn, West Conshohocken and Schwenksville. If you are familiar with any or of those municipalities, imagine one of them being gone in a single day.
No matter what our religion is, no matter what God we worship, we all share a common humanity.
There were around 1,300 graduates who received diplomas or certificates in Montgomery County Community College’s Class of 2023. Imagine the MCCC Class of 2023 gone in a day.
It was a cold-blooded mass murder planned and executed by Hamas, a terrorist organization and it should be described and condemned for what it was — a terrorist attack — and I condemn it.
I traveled to Israel in 2019, and it was one of the great experiences of my life to travel throughout the country in a bus and see the culture, the history and meet the people.
One of the things that struck me during the trip was how geographically “small” the country is. Israel is about the same landmass of New Jersey, and it is a very interconnected country. I’m sure the loss of 1,300 lives in a single day touches everyone in the country in a tragic and very personal way.
Israel has the right to defend herself.
It is false moral equivalency to compare the terrorist attacks committed against Israel on October 7 to Israel’s response. I stand with Israel. I pray for the country, its citizens, people I met while I was there and the family members of my friends who are here in the United States.
Why am I talking about the Israel-Hamas War?
I also pray for innocent Palestinian civilians killed or trapped in this war, and I was encouraged to hear of the humanitarian aid package announced by President Biden for civilians in Gaza and the West Bank.
But why am I talking about the Israel-Hamas War? What does it have to do with Montgomery County or county government?
While for some of us, this is a far-off conflict, for many of our Jewish neighbors, it is very personal. They have loved ones both family and friends who live in Israel. They have traveled to Israel, studied in Israel, shared major life moments in Israel. The interconnectedness that I mentioned in Israel extends from Israel to our county and region. Our neighbors are hurting and grieving, and they are scared.
We also have Palestinian neighbors who have lost loved ones in Gaza and share the same concern for their loved ones’ safety and future. They are hurting and grieving and scared.
Both synagogues and mosques are concerned with security and whether it is safe to gather to worship and mourn. This is wrong.
Antisemitism and Islamophobia are rising here in the United States and our community. This is dangerous. This is wrong. I stand against hate.
We may not be able to solve or stop the violence in the Middle East, but we can look out for and care for one another here by being sensitive, supportive and listening to what our neighbors are saying to us, and encouraging them not to be afraid. We can have their back.
I don’t claim to have all the answers or maybe any answers at all. I don’t always know the right thing to say or when to say it. I think as a society we have become too quick to post and opine rather than listen, learn and try to understand people’s pain.
I am a person of faith and in my faith, a foundational Scripture is Matthew 22:36-40 which says; “‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’”
No matter what our religion is, no matter what God we worship, we all share a common humanity. We all want to feel safe in our communities and right now many of our neighbors do not. During this raw time of grief, anger and fear, if you don’t know what to say, just ask your neighbor how they are doing.
And if you pray, pray for peace.
Ken Lawrence, Jr., is Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. The Citizen welcomes guest commentary from community members who stipulate to the best of their ability that it is fact-based and non-defamatory.
MORE GUEST COMMENTARY FROM THE CITIZENKen Lawrence Jr speaks about the Israel Hamas War and the impact it's having here at home