'This is literally aching my heart': Middle East conflict impacting Kentucky families

Posted at 11:15 PM, May 22, 2021

(LEX 18) — After 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, a ceasefire has held for another day. The question now: what lies ahead for people in the region?

It’s a question that’s deeply personal for many Lexington families. And while many see the situation differently, all feel the impacts of violence in the Middle East.

"I have six of my siblings and their families still back home in the West Bank,” said Musab Shalash, who attended a protest in support of Palestine in downtown Lexington on Saturday night. “They are okay currently, but every day I wake up fearing for my family. I try to contact my family almost every day."

Shalash moved to the United States seven years ago. He’s now studying dentistry at the University of Kentucky.

"It breaks my heart so much because it could have been me, it could have been my family,” he told LEX 18. He said he attended the protest to show solidarity for people back home, where more than 240 people have been killed by aerial attacks. Officials on both sides also report a dozen Israelis have also been killed in the fighting.

“This is literally aching my heart,” he said. “I cannot keep my emotions sometimes.”

The situation overseas is also emotional for Rabbi Rachel Sabath of the Ohavay Zion Synagogue in Lexington. She’s a citizen of Israel who spent many years living there, and she was in Israel when fighting erupted in 2014.

“Running in and out of bomb shelters, everywhere we were, everywhere we were,” she said. “In Jerusalem, something we had never heard of: sirens going off, moving hundreds of people from a seminar into a shelter.”

Rabbi Sabath says current events are incredibly complicated, and recent rhetoric often fuels anti-Semitism around the world. Still, she welcomes respectful conversations about the future of the Middle East.

“It shouldn’t be about us versus them,” she said.