On Sunday, Jan. 28, the local Temple Beth David hosted a discussion by Steve Ettinger on life in Israel following the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas. The tax attorney spoke to the congregation over Zoom at 2:00 p.m. as he was visiting Budapest. The presentation, which had been organized by synagogue President Marlene Shaw, covered many topics surrounding the turmoil, including the lead-up to the events, the day the fighting started, the mobilization of forces, and personal stories.
“As far as this interview with Steven Ettinger, it was wonderful,” Temple Beth David publicist Elena “Cookie” Goodman said. “I think that the people who attended were enlightened on things that are going on that maybe they did not know about. It was most informational. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think everybody here enjoyed it too.”
When discussing what instigated the conflict that fateful Saturday, Ettinger did not bother to delve into the thousands of years of history between the peoples of the Middle East, as much has been documented on the matter. Instead, he focused on a moment that he felt finally sparked the powder keg. The five Israeli elections of the last four years, the ousting of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the judicial reform of 2023 led the country’s opponents to “smell blood” in the water, the attorney noted.
Ettinger moved to Israel with his family more than 20 years ago with six children. Two of his sons, Avi and Josh, currently serve in a special forces unit with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). They had already completed their military service but were called back like roughly 70 percent of fighting-age Israeli men were. Steve was in Israel with his family celebrating Simchat Torah, which directly follows the Jewish holiday of Sukkot when Hamas launched the unexpected attacks that morning.
“All of a sudden, one of the men who worked with the security in our area comes in and he says he wanted all of the men who were there to go home and to turn on their phones […] and you drop everything […] My son [Avi], one day, is literally sitting at his desk in a large law firm in Tel Aviv, and the next day, he has a gun in his hand, a full uniform, and is fighting an enemy,” said Ettinger.
The mobilization was difficult for everyone, as wives and mothers had trouble shopping for groceries and no longer had help around the house. Most of the troops were not able to bring the necessary supplies due to the massive, rapid operation of pulling together the Israeli forces in an afternoon. So, family members and patriotic Jewish citizens would get together supplies, drive them to “within 20 minutes” of where the fighting was taking place, and a member of the military would likely deliver the items from there. Ettinger recounted an anecdote about the rush of the mobilization and the Israeli army’s initial lack of drones.
“[Ms son] gets there and the thing that they did not have was a drone to be able to get up and to patrol their basic area,” said Ettinger. “Again, even though the army has lots of drones […] they did not have one [at first], which meant that they were basically blind if any terrorist would try to infiltrate, especially at night, and they were exposed. So, my son called me up. We went online and there is a store in Tel Aviv that sells this model [of] drone. It is the commercial version of a military drone […] But we did [buy it]. We brought this drone to the Lebanese border.”
Steve answered a variety of questions following his speech, including those about antisemitism, the hostage situation, and whether or not there should be a ceasefire. Answers to many of these queries can be extremely challenging, but he added that dwelling on some of these issues can create “distractions” that can be less than helpful in times of war. The attorney revisited the idea of unity versus discord with the judicial reforms and called for the temple-goers to encourage others to make the journey to Israel if they cannot do so themselves.
After Ettinger completed the presentation and answered everyone’s questions, the leaders of the synagogue brought out a cake for Steve’s brother Ron, who was in attendance. The congregation sang “Happy Birthday” for the 56-year-old before everyone dug into their sweets and headed their separate ways that afternoon.
“Dear God, may He vanquish Hamas,” said Moshe Plager, director of the synagogue’s cultural arts program. “We are sorry about what is going on with innocent Palestinians […] May we all pray for peace. Am Yisrael Chai, the people of Israel live, and thank you so much to our guests for showing your support.”