April 23, 2024
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April 23, 2024
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From Jewish Unity to the Shock of Palestinian Barbarism

As I celebrate my first post-Covid Yomim Noraim since my aliyah, I approached this holiday season with a sense of apprehension. The large demonstrations on both sides of the political spectrum left me uncertain whether this division would spill over into the holiday season or if, through some miracle, some of the societal fissures would be healed by the holiday spirit.

My first glimmer of hope emerged during a Selichot concert held at the Knesset, an event that exemplified the unique nature of Israel’s diverse society. In attendance were 1,500 Israelis representing a spectrum of backgrounds—haredi, religious Zionist, secular, Sefardi, Ashkenazi—all united in song and prayer, with a shared focus on unity and Selichot.

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana encapsulated this spirit when he stated, “These days, the idea of distortions regarding the separation between different parts of the nation is arising as it did in the bible, as if splitting ourselves will solve everything. There is no revival for Judah without Israel, there is no revival for Israel without Judah. The month of forgiveness is the opportunity for all of us to make amends. Precisely out of the broken parts—just like the Tablets—will grow correction. There is something to fix between us, and it is possible—if we just listen to each other.”

However, my optimism was short-lived when, during a public Yom Kippur service in Tel Aviv, a small group of leftist protestors violently disrupted the proceedings, which included a mechitza made up of Israeli flags. This disruption was condemned by many political leaders on both sides of the political fence, illustrating the surprising unity that can emerge even amidst divisive times.

As we prepared for Sukkot, I regained a sense that there was an opportunity for healing. There were no demonstrations as the country prepared for the holiday. Walking through the Old City of Jerusalem during Chol Hamoed and witnessing Israelis from all walks of life heading together towards the Kotel, I couldn’t help but wonder if the power of our tradition could indeed bring us together.

Then came the night of Simchat Torah, a time when it seemed the entire country was celebrating. Whether dancing with the Torah in the streets of the city and synagogues or enjoying a nature concert in the south, the spirit of joy was palpable.

However, the mood quickly shifted on Simchat Torah morning when we received news of a terrorist event in the Gaza area and the possibility of missile sirens. The shul president announced that we might need to seek shelter. Within a few minutes the sirens went off and the entire congregation made its way into the stairwells. Amidst the uncertainty, a heartfelt shir of hallel broke out in the stairwell, a testament to the resilience and determination of the Israeli spirit.

We returned to the synagogue, but 30 minutes later the sirens blasted again, this time just as we were about to duchan (the priestly blessing). It was if Hashem was telling us that now was not the time for the priestly blessing. Once again we retreated to the stairwell and waited about 20 minutes. Eventually, the decision was made to cancel the rest of the services. Most people completed their prayers at home or sought refuge in other open synagogues. I went to the Gra, recalling the words of the Lubavitch Rebbe during the Yom Kippur War, urging us to sing and dance with even more fervor on Simchat Torah.

At that point, none of us truly comprehended the magnitude of the attack in the south. Walking in the streets, there still was a sense of Yom Tov.

Throughout the day, rumors circulated about what was happening—reports of 100 Israelis killed and a few hostages. We heard there were a few hundred rockets fired across the country, but the details remained unclear. As soon as the holiday ended, people rushed to their phones to learn more. By the time we woke up on Sunday morning, the death toll had reached 400 Israelis, and it continued to rise, with over a hundred hostages taken. The most horrific news came about a Nature concert in the south, where hundreds of children, women and elderly individuals were slaughtered and dozens were taken hostage and brought to Gaza.

A Tehillim session at HaNasi on Sunday night underscored the gravity of the situation, with Rabbis Wein and Kenigsberg emphasizing that the world must recognize this as a war between good and evil. Evil, in this context, sought to indiscriminately kill Jews, including children, women and the elderly, and desecrate their bodies. The world must not forget this, for failing to remember will only perpetuate the blame on Israel.

Later in the day, there was strong support from leaders such as President Biden, President Macron and Prime Minister Sunak, acknowledging that this was a joint effort by Palestinian terrorists and Iranians. However, the question remained whether their support would endure as Israel worked to solve this crisis, as it undoubtedly would, with God’s help.

The country is in shock, and every Israeli is affected by this tragedy. They either have friends and relatives in the southern communities or have loved ones who have been called up for service. Israelis are seeking answers and a strong response. This surprise attack caught the IDF unprepared, and the country’s leadership is now navigating how best to respond.

Answers will come, but we must allow the IDF to complete the job of eliminating the threat for good. In the meantime, we can pray for our troops and those injured and reflect on our actions, striving to create unity among the people of Israel.

Let me conclude with a quote from the Baal Shem Tov: “After every es tzara, a time of pain and tragedy, comes a yeshua.” Let us pray that this es tzara will be short, and a great yeshua will swiftly follow.

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