Cheyenne resident Matani Ravenna was shocked when he heard the news that nearly a dozen of his friends and acquaintances already have been killed fighting in the war that broke out in his native Israel over the weekend.
“They ran into battle outgunned and still fought and gave their lives in defense of innocent citizens,” Ravenna said. “I know these men. They are brave men.”
Ravenna moved to Cheyenne from Israel in March to live with his future wife and pursue a better life. He and fellow Israeli transplant and Wyoming resident Noam Mantaka organized a peaceful prayer vigil in support of Israel on Monday night at the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne.
“Now, we are fighting from here because we believe that the Jews of the diaspora should stand with Israel in this grave, grave, grave moment,” Ravenna said.
Mantaka’s story is similar to Ravenna’s. Mantaka moved to Wyoming from Israel in 2016, where he’s prospered and found a new life, raising a new family and running his food truck business Noam’s Table.
But in many ways, Mantaka’s heart still remains in Israel, particularly because of the recent fighting and his concerns for the safety of his children who still live there.
His son is a reserve member of the Israel Defense Forces and has been called into active combat because of the recent attack. Mantaka’s elderly father also lives in Israel and has told him he is kept awake by the constant sound of blaring sirens and exploding missiles landing near his home.
“I’m tearing myself apart because I can’t be there,” he said.
Before about 50 people at the Capitol, Mantaka delivered a tearful, heartfelt message to his son, Or-Raz.
“Please return in peace, please come back home,” he urged his son.
Anger And Anguish
Ravenna said he is battling a rollercoaster of emotions between anger and extreme sadness.
More than 300,000 troops have been called up to fight for Israel, the largest mobilization on short notice in the country’s history, CNN reported.
Cheyenne resident Jason Bloomberg said Saturday’s attack was the most Jews killed in a single day since the Holocaust.
Israel’s newly sparked war with Palestinian militant group Hamas has shocked people around the world for its brutality and quick escalation. According to Yahoo News, as of Tuesday morning, more than 1,600 people have already been killed since Hamas launched its assault on Israel.
During a speech on Tuesday, President Joe Biden confirmed that 14 Americans have been killed in the fighting that he said was caused by “pure unadulterated evil.”
Some in Israel have already described the event as their country’s version of 9/ 11 or Pearl Harbor, said Moshe Halfon, rabbi at the Mt. Sinai Synagogue in Cheyenne.
On Monday, Gov. Mark Gordon ordered all state government flags to be flown at half-mast in remembrance of the Americans who have died in Israel. Wyoming’s congressional delegation also all spoke out in support of Israel.
“Wyoming stands firmly by our ally Israel as she defends her people from the cowardly attacks of Hamas,” Gordon said in a press release. “We vehemently condemn the horrendous actions of these terrorists.”
In addition to those killed, Hamas also has killed and kidnapped hundreds of civilians, including women and children.
Ravenna told Cowboy State Daily his grandmother was nearly kidnapped, but thankfully his aunt had gone to visit her for an unrelated reason when they discovered other people were being kidnapped in her neighborhood.
“What happened is an atrocious attack against helpless victims who are just waking up in their beds, taken into terror tunnels to be leveraged against the state of Israel, the one home for Jews in this world,” Ravenna said.
Despite these atrocities, Mantaka said the Israeli Defense Forces have upheld international humanitarian law, treating and feeding captured Hamas forces.
Ravenna, as required for nearly all men and women in Israel, served in the Israel Defense Forces. This duty led him to not only protect Jewish civilians, but also Palestinians and the Pope on one occasion.
“My service taught me a lot, and I was taught to defend people,” Ravenna said. “Defend Jews, but also Christians and Muslims.”
The war comes as a new source of pain for Ravenna, whose mother also recently died.
He told Cowboy State Daily he was heartened by the turnout of people Monday night for the impromptu event he and Mantaka only started planning about five hours beforehand.
“Heartwarming is an understatement,” Ravenna said about the show of support.
Pleas For Peace
Many who spoke Monday offered general pleas for peace and safety in the war-torn region.
“We want the bloodshed to stop, we want everyone to live in peace,” Bloomberg said.
There were people from numerous different religious denominations in attendance as well.
The Rev. Elizabeth Mount of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne urged those in attendance to value human life over war and killing.
“We’re here not because we have solidarity with Israel or the United States, but because real people are really in turmoil,” she said.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a highly intricate and immensely complicated series of disputes dating back to at least the mid-20th century and arguably Biblical times.
Halfon said Hamas, which he considers a terrorist group, doesn’t represent the wishes of the greater Palestinian people.
“Hamas does not represent the Palistinians that live in Gaza,” Halfon said. “They are a vicious fundamentalist group. The Palestinians in Gaza will suffer as a result of this. What Hamas has done is kill their own people.”
Palestinian authorities said at least 830 people have been killed and another 4,250 have been injured in Gaza from Israeli retaliatory attacks.
Ravenna and Mantaka disagree with Halfon and believe that Hamas represents the wishes of a “silent majority” of Palestine.
“At the end of the day those people support what’s happening,” Ravenna said.
One of the few silver linings to these recent events is the unifying force that the war has had on the Israeli people.
Although the country has been rife with division over a judicial overhaul made to their Supreme Court in recent months, that controversy now pales in comparison to what has happened lately.
Halfon said even non-Jewish people who live in Israel have been helping with their country’s cause.
Mantaka said he’s heard accounts of people flying to Israel from around the world to help with the war effort. In Israel, taxi and bus drivers there have started transporting people for free to help them escape unsafe situations.
“It’s united all of them together,” Mantaka said. “Each one is helping the other one.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.