In the throes of Oct. 7, when the worldwide Jewish community was blindsided by profound loss and shock, Cong. Keter Torah in Teaneck took it upon itself to be a place where the entire community could come to grieve together, pray together, sing together, and hopefully start to heal together. Now, more than a month later, over 150 men, women and children continue to gather every weeknight for a short but impactful program that inspires and helps them connect with God, our brothers and sisters in Israel, and one another.
Each evening, under the banner of “Tehillim, Tefillah, and Togetherness (TTT),” different individuals step forward to offer a few minutes of reflection that shed light on the shared journey since that fateful day. A rotating chazan then leads the kehilla in reciting several “kapitlach” of Tehillim, interspersed with songs that strike a chord and touch the heart. After misheberachs for the state of Israel and Tzahal, the evening concludes with Maariv.
Rabbi Shalom Baum of Keter Torah captured the essence: “Each person is reacting to current events in their own way. Some turn to tefillah and Tehillim; some find their inspiration in song; others want to process with words and stories; yet others simply find solace in being together in the same room with a community that shares a common experience. We want to offer a space in our shul for anyone who might benefit from these collective experiences.”
Communal members have shared stories about family and friends in Israel, on or away from the front lines, and how their lives have changed — or been tragically lost — in the current conflict. Some have told stories about their own experiences of being in Israel on and after Oct. 7. Yet others have looked to the parsha and the words of Chazal to try to make some sense of what is happening in the world around us at this moment.
“We all have stories to tell,” said Ed Stelzer, one recent evening. “Almost all of us are one or two degrees separated from someone in Eretz Yisrael, and we must continue to tell their individual stories so that they aren’t lost to history.” Stelzer spoke about his extended family, who were among the first to be brutally murdered near the Gaza border on the morning of the now infamous Shabbat Ha’Shachor.
Young and old, men, women and children are invited to share their distinct voices and perspectives. The youngest presenter so far, 10-year-old Jacob Zamist, spoke with love and pride about his two cousins serving in the IDF. Over the last three weeks, parents and siblings of active chayalim, such as Judah Miller, Bassie Lewis and Yael Weil, shared their emotional reflections. Other community members involved in organizations directly impacted, like Michael “Buzzy” Green, director of development at the Hesder Yeshiva in Sderot, shared what is happening on the ground.
In over a month, no night has ever been the same. Offered Rabbi Avraham Wein, assistant rabbi at Keter Torah, “We are aware that there is a risk of fatigue over time as we are unfortunately settling into a ‘new normal,’ but by having different members of the community presenting and leading the Tehillim and singing each night, every evening is an entirely new experience. It is so nice for me to see everyone stepping up and opening themselves up to the community.”
In thinking about TTT, Adam Lewis, a gabbai at Keter Torah, observed that “attendance each night has been extraordinary with well over 100 people participating. We hope to fill the Beit Knesset with the wider Bergen County community. Everyone is welcome to attend and also speak or sing at the nightly gathering.”
As much chizuk and comfort that TTT offers, no one wants it to go on forever. Jason Suss of Keter Torah said that he hopes “the war will end and that we can stop this program tomorrow,” but until it does, “we plan to be here night after night to come together and call out to Sha’arei Shamayim with our heartfelt shirah and tefillot.”
TTT, Tehillim, Tefillah, and Togetherness, takes place every weeknight, Monday-Thursday, from 8:30-9 p.m. at Cong. Keter Torah. All of Bergen County is invited. Join the community and share your story. Nightly presentations are available at instagram.com/ketertorah and www.facebook.com/congregationketertorah.