When I was in college in Manhattan, I didn’t sleep much. Shopping for trendy clothes, listening to urban music, cramming for tests, social scenes at night- there weren’t enough hours in the day. I was intensely focused on doing well in school and attending the best parties. Work hard, party hard. I took it seriously.
I would occasionally take a train to Philadelphia to spend a holiday or Shabbat with Rabbi and Rebbetzin Kamenetsky, sheyichyu l’orech yamim tovim aruchim (they should live long, good days). What a treat it was. The moment I entered, an alternate universe surrounded me where dignity, integrity, and kindness seeped through every interaction and decision.
The polarity between my lifestyle in New York and my experiences in Philadelphia was stark. It struck me when I entered their house; it struck me when I entered my dorm.
That same polarity is what I experience when I go about my regular day, and then stop to stare into the photograph of the faces of our martyrs. They never chose to be kedoshim (martyrs) but apparently that fate chose them.
For those of us who knew or had exposure to these kedoshim, or know their families, the news is particularly painful. These men exemplified such incredible Jewish values, not least of which included moving away from their native, familiar countries to live in Jerusalem.
A volunteer from Zakkah who arrived on the scene to clean up the sickening mess said he’d never seen anything comparable at any other terror site. Bloodied tefillin (Jewish phylacteries) and siddurim (prayer books), these murderers acting with unfathomable brutality in a holy sanctuary brought back visions of photographs this volunteer had only seen in Holocaust museums.
My teacher from Neve, Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller writes that her daughter, Miri, called her at 7:00am saying her son, Mordechai, had just came home from shul. “He said that Arabs came in and are shooting, and that a man with an axe is hitting everyone. Some of the people threw chairs at them, but it didn’t help”. You can read her beautiful words and full account here.
What can our collective reaction be? I deeply desire a reaction as I bounce back and forth between my “regular” day and thoughts of this tragedy.
How should I react? What can I do? What can anyone do?
I keep asking these questions to myself and I know many ask them as well. While I refuse to look at photos or video footage of the bloody massacre, I have read many posts of friends expressing their thoughts about the tragic events. After reading, I have concluded that first and foremost, we mourn. We mourn the husbands and fathers who died. They were all Jewish leaders, in their own right, and they were slaughtered for being Jewish. Unarmed, in prayer, unprepared, they died. Their wives widowed, their children orphaned.
Second, we pray for the recovery of those who were wounded. An hour ago I received this email:
Just got this: from Israel!!!!!
Please stop for a minute and pray urgently for Eitan be-n Sorah – it is URGENT. He is hanging between life and death. The murderers chopped him on the head with an ax and he is in a life-threatening place right now.
We are unified, our little Jewish nation that has withstood so much, in prayer for this man and the other men in similar straits.
So we mourn and pray. What else?
I have seen a couple of very positive ideas including collecting charity for the families of the kedoshim. Another insight circulating was to work to build ourselves internally into better people.
For the readers who know this world to be run by a compassionate Director, what can we do other than mourn, pray, and try to do good things?
What ails our Jewish nation, communities, individuals, selves that we are here?
How would you like Israel’s leadership to respond? Fight back? Do nothing? To what end?
Jewish history appears to run in a strange pattern where we find overwhelmingly dark times befalling the Jewish people that snowball into a Holocaust. We also find equally dark times plaguing the Jewish people that end, like Chanukah and Purim, in miracles and victory.
In the case of Chanukah, a spiritual threat was fought with a physical war. In the case of Purim, a physical threat was fought with a spiritual war (fasting and prayer).
Perhaps mourning, fasting, and praying are our last and only hope.
For those of us who struggle with feeling fully connected spiritually (me), this isn’t an easy conclusion.
To our mourners, we mourn with you:
“Hamakom yenachem eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei tzion v’yerushalayim.”
“May God console you, together with all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
To the wounded, we pray for you.
For our nation, for our country, for our children, for our future: We mourn. We fast. We pray.