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Toldot – Mevarchim – Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an American phenomenon, born from noble sentiments and tracing its roots to the very formation of our nation. It is culturally imbedded in our DNA, with scheduling and vacation planning built into the way we order our lives at this time of year. Of course, it is heavily overlaid with the profit factor, its commercialization a bedrock of American consumerism.

It is against this backdrop, that many American Jews inevitably view the events which have unfolded in Israel over the past few weeks. Let me share some extracts from a hurried email, written by our niece, from Jerusalem this past Tuesday:

“Yom shlishi, kaf heh cheshvan, This Morning I woke up to the sounds of sirens sounding in the neighborhood. While I live in Israel and have become accustomed – somewhat – to the sounds of sirens, I have never heard so many before. Was there a police escort driving Bibi Netanyahu through the neighborhood? I got up and woke my 3 young children. My husband and eldest son had already left for shul. The sirens didn’t stop, they were right outside the window…what was going on?

It was now 7:08, usually the most quiet time of the day as the men are in shul and children are slowly starting to wake up. I looked out my window…, at the top of our road I saw police vans, police cars, special forces vans – those big white ones with the blacked-out windows like you see in the movies – And out of them were pouring policemen and soldiers with guns and they were running and more police were arriving and the sirens kept wailing…wait! Where was my son? Where was my husband? They left before 7:00 to daven…..my son studies in the school opposite the shul where all the police were. My husband sometimes davens at the sephardi shul next to the one the police were running to. Please Hashem I said to myself, please let them be safe, no matter what’s going on.

I stood frozen looking at what was going on outside…then my younger children came running to me and I broke my frozen scared horrified stare and turned away from the window. ….. I ran to the radio…Breaking news – 2 terrorists have attacked a shul full of worshippers with knives AXES and guns, while they were davening Shmona-Esray. 4 suspected dead and 5 seriously injured…..Hashem Yishmor.

…..My thoughts turned to the dead and wounded and then to my husband and my son (o.m.g.! Where were they? Were they safe? Were they alive?)

My younger children looked up at me with worry and fear and pure terror in their eyes. I started to cry, I started to pace the apartment…and the sirens outside didn’t stop and the screams outside penetrated the windows and the wave of panic continued to gain force…

7:20, the phone rang and it was my son- “I am fine mom, I was in class when the attack broke out, I am fine, we are staying in the school till things calm down outside, I heard the shots mom, I heard them clear as day! And as I was walking to school this morning a white car came speeding up the road and turned into the road where the attack was. They say on the news that the terrorists drove a white car…maybe it was them? Don’t worry mom, I’ll be home soon.”

Baruch Hashem I said out loud after his call. I was so relieved….

7:30, I and the children sat and continued to listened to the radio…I hugged each and told them I loved them. We waited…For my husband, for their abba. He had left his cell phone at home this morning…The calls started – from family, from work…are we okay, everyone asked.

Where is my husband I thought? I watched the clock…he should be home by now…my mind was racing and the sirens outside continued to drive me nuts – make them stop!!! Please make them stop. At 8:00 I heard the front door – it was my husband back from shul (Baruch Hashem). He had tears in his eyes and we just hugged each other and held each close for the longest time. He hugged the children and then we locked the front door tightly. We were on lockdown. The neighborhood continued to teem with police and maddah (magen david adom). They were searching all shuls for more terrorists…and so this was our day, and we prayed and we cried and we asked why?.....

 

This, is an Israeli mother’s thanksgiving, for her husband, her child’s safety – thanksgiving, for life itself.

No biblical or Rabbinic formulae can begin to console those mourning the loss of Jewish life in Israel this week – yet, because, and only because, we are speaking of Israel, the following ray of light, emanating from our people at this time, from the people of Israel, places a human face on the darkness of the hour.

One of the first police responders to the terrorist attack, was a Druze officer, a Shi-ite Muslim, Zidan Saif, like many other Druze, an integral part of Israel society. Shot in the head by a terrorist, he was one of the five killed.

The predominantly rightwing orthodox community of Har Nof, where the terrorists struck, is insular, separating itself from many secular situations or encounters, certainly from other religious practices, and often from their own more liberal, or left wing leaning fellow Jews.

Once funeral arrangements were publicized, bus load after bus load of ultra-orthodox Jews, many from Har Nof itself, drove to the funeral, the Islamic-Druze funeral of Zidan Saif, joining thousands of others from across the country, in a final tribute to a Muslim, who died in defense of his Jewish co-citizens, and to offer some consolation and support to his wife and infant daughter.

This is a nation’s thanksgiving for a life sacrificed in defense of its people, Jews and non-Jews, together paying their last respects to a citizen of Israel. This collective act is a valuable Jewish lesson –one of sanctifying G-d’s name, Kiddush Hashem, a nation, tearing itself away from the scene of bloodied tallitot and lives hacked to death, whilst in the midst of prayer, the Shemone-Esray and Kedusha, the very prayers that sanctify G-d’s name!

We are about to recite and sing the prayers of Mevarchim-Hachodesh, blessing the new month of Kislev. Today we say farewell to the month of Mar-Cheshvan, a “bitter” Cheshvan, stained over the past few weeks with the blood of innocent Jewish lives. Chanukah falls in Kislev, bringing with it the light of the menorah, light during a dark period! It is my hope, as I know it is yours, that the Light of Chanukah bring with it the light of peace and hope, the light in which goodwill triumphs over the malevolence of those who wish us harm.

Let us rise and together, read the Y’hi Ratzon prayer.  Whilst doing so, in the zechut of those who lost their lives whilst in prayer, or in other acts of terror, let’s add a level of kavana – devotion, to our requests of G-d for a month of good and blessing – “tovah and brachah.”

Shabbat Shalom u’mevorach.

-Cantor Joel Lichterman

 

 

 

 

 

Thu, September 19 2019 19 Elul 5779