FORT LAUDERDALE — Diego Engelbert called his older sister Karina to the sound of alarms in her border town in Israel on October 7.
It was the morning Hamas militants stormed from the blockaded Gaza Strip into neighboring Israeli towns. And that was the last conversation Engelbert, 45, would have with Karina, 51.
Engelbert told the heartbreaking story Tuesday evening before about 240 people, including representatives from more than 50 North American cities, at the W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. The room was filled, he pointed out, with roughly the same number of hostages captured by Hamas in his hometown on Kibbutz Nir Oz, located just meters from the border fence.
The group, present for the North American Mayors’ Summit Against Anti-Semitism, remained silent as Engelbert’s voice cracked.
Engelbert’s family was among those who were able to leave Israel and find temporary refuge in the United States. But many relatives from other families were not so lucky.
Engelbert remembers how quiet the phone line was as he spoke with Karina that morning, shortly after 9 a.m. Hamas had entered Karina’s house, he realized.
Along with Karina, the activists took her husband Ronen, a 54-year-old volunteer doctor, and their two daughters, Mika, 18, and Yuval, 11. The couple’s eldest son, Tom, 21, a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, was at his base at the time of the attacks. He now lives with an uncle.
Engelbert sent messages to Karina and the girls, but received no response. Authorities later told him they had been kidnapped, just like Ronen.
“I need my family,” Engelbert said. “I need my friends. I need my house.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Played Lead in Organizing Anti-Semitism Summit
This year is the first time the international summit has been held in the United States. Its goal is to inform about anti-Semitism, explain how it manifests in today’s world, and provide local leaders with the means to combat it.
Sacha Roytman, CEO of the Combat Antisemitism Movement, hopes leaders leave the summit feeling comforted in knowing they are not alone in the challenges they face today.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution for every community,” Roytman said. “But ultimately it’s about opening the doors of the community to neighbors, making sure they know each other, especially in small towns and small communities.”
The two-day summit was planned well before the start of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Its location this year, Roytman said, had been in the works since last year’s summit in Athens, Greece, when Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis insisted the conference be held in South Florida .
“He believed the city was a place of hope,” Roytman said. “Build interreligious dialogue, intercultural dialogue, intercommunity dialogue. »
But it comes at a time when anti-Semitic incidents in the United States have increased by 316% compared to the same period last year, according to preliminary data published this week by the Anti-Defamation League.
Since October 7, at least 11,470 Palestinians – two-thirds of them women and minors – have been killed in Gaza, according to the report. Associated Press. This figure does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths.
More than 1,200 people were killed in Israel, most of them in the first Hamas attack, in which around 240 people were captured.
“We are very sad that this is being seen as a political issue,” Roytman said. “For us, combating anti-Semitism, any type of hatred, is a non-partisan, non-political issue that should be agreed upon by all parties. The only way to have an impact is to disconnect from politics.
Boca Raton Mayor: Boca remained strong and united
Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer planned to attend the summit before October 7.
“But now, more than ever,” Singer said, “mayors, leaders and all those who stand on the side of justice are speaking out against the alarming rise in anti-Semitism, the brutal and terrorist killings and the torture, and work for the return of citizens”. of these hostages.
This year, the Boca Raton City Council unanimously adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism as an educational tool.
“It’s an effective tool for education and law enforcement,” Singer said. “And I am happy about the overwhelming response in terms of financial support, volunteering and help in our community for Israel and for all of us who are suffering. »
The city remained strong and united, Singer added. He finds comfort that members of his community have given strength, not only to each other, but to people around the world, he said.
The summit brought together speakers from across the country, including mayors from different states, such as Virginia, Ohio and New Jersey.
An Israeli family is in mourning: “I can’t sleep. Every day I cry
Engelbert was one of three families of captive Hamas hostages who testified at the start of the events.
Maayan Sigal-Koren was another.
Five members of Sigal-Koren’s family were arrested on October 7. His mother Clara Merman, 63, his mother’s partner Lusic Norberto Har, 70, his uncle Fernando Merman, 60, his aunt Gabriella Leimberg, 59, and his 17-year-old son. cousin Mia Leimberg.
“I don’t have a big family,” Sigal-Koren said. “There are few of them.”
And the moment her mother stopped answering the phone, Sigal-Koren said, was the moment she realized her life would never be the same.
For Sigal-Koren’s loved ones, time is of the essence. Her mother’s partner is diabetic and uses a hearing aid and breathing machine at night.
“How can you survive without it?” she asked. “The Red Cross hasn’t seen it yet.”
Engelbert’s sister Karina is also recovering from breast cancer.
“I can’t sleep,” Engelbert said. “Every day I cry.”
Natalia Casarotti, also from Israel in South Florida, lost her 21-year-old son Keshet to Hamas during its attack on the Nova festival in Israel.
“He had a lot of big dreams,” Casarotti, 50, said of his son, whose name translates to “rainbow” in Hebrew. “He wanted to go to Brazil, become a gold prospector and have a beautiful house in front of the beach. A simple dream, you know?”
Sigal-Koren’s request is that her family’s story be shared.
“Please share my story on social media,” she said. “Ask them to do everything in their power to press for the safe return of all hostages. Please help me bring my family home.
Jasmine Fernández is a reporter who covers Delray Beach and Boca Raton for the Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at email@example.com and follow her on X (formerly Twitter) at @jasminefernandz. Help us support our work. Subscribe today.