As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, StandWithUs co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein grew up deeply immersed in the shadow of the Shoah.
That is what made the unprecedented Hamas assault on Israel all too familiar, Rothstein said at the StandWithUs Southwest “Leaders of Tomorrow” gala on Sunday at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina. In the wake of the October 7 surprise attack widely identified as the deadliest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust, she repeatedly emphasized, “We have been here before.”
“I heard stories [of the Holocaust] of people hiding in closets and begging for their lives; and being taken away by monsters. Isn’t that exactly what we are seeing this last week?” said Rothstein.
She continued, “We have been here before. We have been here before. We are familiar with the sadism. We are familiar with all these things, begging for your life. And we are familiar with how you make a Nazi and how you make a jihadist. How do you do it? You take little children, and you teach them bad things about Jews or other minorities. You teach them to hate and to demonize people, and then you end up with someone who feels comfortable hurting another person, marginalizing, dehumanizing another person. You get that through training—ongoing training. The Nazi youth of the 1930s grew up to become the Nazis. And so, we have the Palestinian children who are growing up on a steady diet of hate. It should come as no surprise. What we see is predictable. We have been here before. We have seen this movie before.”
Due to their efforts on the ground in Israel amid the war, StandWithUs’ keynote speaker Colonel Richard Kemp and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Mitch Danzig both could not attend in-person. Kemp delivered remarks via live video feed and Danzig in a recorded message.
Noa Rosenbaum, a StandWithUs Kenneth Leventhal High School Intern during the 2022-23 academic year at Urban Discovery High School, received the Leader of Tomorrow award.
Kemp—a former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans, and Northern Ireland—described the current war as the “toughest situation Israel has ever faced in its history,” and Hamas as “a combination of Islamic State and Nazism.” There is no political solution to this conflict because Hamas exists solely to annihilate Israel and the Jewish people, he said.
He said Israel “is probably the only country that is attacked for being attacked” in the media and in the international community. While Israel “is adhering religiously to the rules of war,” Hamas terrorists are hiding behind Gaza’s civilian population and forcing civilians to stay put despite the impending Israeli ground operation, according to Kemp.
Under those conditions, he said the death of Palestinian civilians is “not a war crime. It is unfortunately a consequence of the way Hamas fights.”
Kemp also predicted that the war “is almost certainly going to widen” to involve Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria.
“Those of us who are not fighting…should see it as an enormous honor to be able to play our part to stand up for Israel,” he said.
In that regard, Oz Laniado, executive director of StandWithUs Southwest, told the crowd that “if you are not on the frontline, please be online. Spread your message.”
“Every person in good conscience, Jews, non-Jews, must stand with Israel today. This massacre wasn’t just against Israelis or Jews. It is against humanity,” Laniado said, adding, “We have to stop apologizing for defending our people.”
Danzig, who spent seven years as president of the StandWithUs San Diego Advisory Board and helped StandWithUs launch a national pro bono legal network for Jewish and pro-Israel students facing harassment and discrimination, said that Israel’s enemies “never get off message.”
“They repeat these lies…knowing that thanks to systemic and endemic Jew-hatred, there is a ready audience for their lies as well as a sea of ignorant people to be persuaded by lies camouflaged in the language of social justice,” he said. “And this is why StandWithUs’ mission remains so relevant and so important. We cannot cede the rhetorical battlefield, the battle of hearts and minds, to people who rationalize intentionally mass murdering babies and hundreds of unarmed kids at a peace concert.”
Similarly, Rothstein asserted that the greatest threat to the Jewish people today is misinformation and ignorance.
“This is a moment in time where you have to be involved, you have to help educate people, because of this low information,” she said.
Rothstein recalled that StandWithUs—an international education organization that supports Israel and fights antisemitism—was founded just two weeks after Jewish teenagers Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran were murdered by Palestinian terrorists in May 2001. Two months earlier, another Palestinian terror attack had killed Shalhevet Pass, a 10-month-old baby.
Now, the Jewish community finds itself “in an international shiva, and it feels like a nightmare that simply does not want to end,” Rothstein said.
“What we usually do [at a gala] is we ask for everybody’s support to help support students in high schools and middle schools and college campuses, so that they can stand up and be proud of their Zionism and fight for Israel; and teach their friends and inspire their friends,” she said. “Tonight, we still have to do that. With rising antisemitism, we are still obligated to do the same thing. We must do our job.”
Jacob Kamaras is editor and publisher of San Diego Jewish World.