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For Denver Couple, Israel-Hamas war stirs heartfelt memories, fears

As married couple Maire and Topaz Dori go about their daily lives in Denver — she as an event planner and he in finance — the Israeli-Hamas conflict is never far from their minds. 

“For many people here, it seems so far away, but for us, it’s so near to our hearts,” Maire Dori, 27, told the Denver Catholic. “Israel is where my husband grew up. I spent a lot of time there.” 

Maire Dori, a Catholic who works for the Archdiocese of Denver, is a transplant from southern California. Topaz Dori, 26, is Jewish. Born and reared on a kibbutz started by his paternal grandfather near Nazareth in northern Israel, he immigrated to the United States three years ago. His parents and two younger sisters still live in Israel.  

The couple met in 2019 while Maire was on pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Topaz had finished his military service, which is compulsory in Israel, and was working as a security guard for Maire’s group. When Topaz visited the United States that fall, he visited Maire’s family in Ojai, Calif.  

Despite Maire being a devout Catholic and Topaz a cultural, rather than practicing Jew, they clicked. Now wed a year and a half, they attend Mass weekly. Hoping for children, they plan to baptize them and rear them according to their shared values. The couple speaks with Topaz’s family at least twice a week, including every Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest observed from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.  

News that the Islamist militant group Hamas launched a terrorist attack from Gaza on southern Israel Oct. 7, massacring 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostages, was heartrending for the couple.  

“The entire country is deeply impacted by the whole thing,” Maire said. “(Our family) lives quite far from where that happened. They were blessed to not be directly affected. … Because Israel is such a tiny country and such a tight-knit society, everyone knows somebody who has been lost.” 

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Two men who had served in the military with Topaz were killed by Hamas at an outdoor music festival near the Israel-Gaza border, which was among the first targets. His family was touched by the deaths of others as well.  

The initial attacks happened during the Sabbath. It was also the end of the Jewish feast Sukkot, celebrating harvest and God’s protection during the Israelites’ 40 years in the desert, and it was the start of Simchat Torah, marking completion of the annual cycle of Torah readings. 

“I pray for those families that saw a day of celebration be transformed into a day of mourning,” Pope Francis said in an Oct. 11 general audience. He denounced Hamas’ terrorism, urged the release of hostages and voiced concern about Israel’s retaliation on Gaza and its impact on civilians. He ended with a call for peace through fraternity and dialogue. 

“We are very hurt,” Topaz said. “We Jews haven’t experienced something like this since the Holocaust. In comparison to population, its bigger than 9/11.” 

News reports affirmed his comments. Lazar Berman, diplomatic correspondent for The Times of Israel, was among those, declaring online, “October 7, 2023, saw the most Jews slaughtered in a single day since the Holocaust.”  

“Israelis are (at their) best under war,” Topaz said. “We all gather together and send money, food and clothing in such moments.” 

His mother is among volunteers helping farmers get crops harvested and to market. Volunteers are also aiding people whose homes were destroyed to relocate. 

Despite the conflict, both of his parents continue to work full time, his father in finance and his mother in factory management on a kibbutz. Commute times are longer due to more military traffic with some 360,000 military reservists called up for active duty to defend the country. Universities are shut down, so one sister is on hiatus from her studies. Likewise, his other sister, a member of the women’s national judo team, is on a forced break from training. 

Topaz’s father has taken to carrying a handgun as a safety precaution in case violence erupts from Hamas sympathizers within the state. Mistrust between Jews and Palestinians is generations old.  

Diaspora and genocide are well-known aspects of Jewish history. The term “diaspora” originates from Deuteronomy 28:25 to describe the scattering of the Jews outside Palestine after the Babylonian exile. The term “genocide” was first used in 1944 to describe Nazi atrocities against Jews. 

“Both of (Topaz’s) grandmothers were born in Israel. His grandfathers were not,” Maire said. “One grandpa is from Iran; he is a Persian Jew. The other grandpa escaped the Holocaust as a young child, the rest (of his family) didn’t make it. He was a 6-year-old from Hungary who was brought to Israel. All are from the Jewish culture within those countries.” 

When the State of Israel was born on May 14, 1948, it marked a return of the biblical Promised Land of Canaan to the then state-less Jews — particularly those fleeing the Nazi Holocaust of World War II.  

Formerly known as Palestine and occupied by Jews and Palestinians, the region had been conceded to Great Britain by the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. Palestinians, descendants of the Canaanites and Philistines, also claim biblical ties to the land. 

On May 15, 1948, newborn Israel was attacked by five Arab nations. Israel won the war within a year. The region was then divided into three parts: Israel, the West Bank (which went to Jordan) and the Gaza Strip (which went to Egypt). West Jerusalem went to Israel, while East Jerusalem went to Jordan.  

In 1967, a Six Day War between Israel and its Palestinian Arab neighbors resulted in Israel capturing the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and other territories. In addition to other wars, Israel fought against yearslong Palestinian “Intifadas” (uprisings) in 1987 and 2000.  

In 2005, Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip. The next year, Hamas won an election against the Palestinian Liberation Organization to control Gaza.  

Hamas, whose stated goal is to destroy Israel and establish an Islamist fundamentalist state, is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union.  

Now a month into the conflict, Israel is determined to defeat Hamas to prevent further terrorism. The U.S. has urged a “humanitarian pause” in the war to allow aid into Gaza, and foreign nationals and the wounded out.  

On Oct. 27, Pope Francis led a prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica for peace in the Holy Land and other war zones. Invoking the Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, he prayed, “inspire the leaders of nations to seek paths of peace.”  

“In this dark hour, we look to you,” the pope implored. “Keep alive the hope of Easter through the night of sorrow.”  

Maire, too, recommends that people ask the intercession of the Virgin Mary. 

“She is respected in the Arab tradition,” Maire said. “She could be a way for conversion of heart. … The Jews are God’s chosen people. At the end of the day, God is in charge. That doesn’t make it easy, but I have comfort that God is there and has a plan for these people.”

Roxanne King
Roxanne King
Roxanne King is the former editor of the Denver Catholic Register and a freelance writer in the Denver area.

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