Baruch Dayan HaEmet - Praised is the True Judge. I write to you today with an extremely heavy heart as we mourn the loss of over 900 Israelis (and counting), and thousands more wounded, over the weekend. The terrorist attacks against Israel perpetrated by Hamas were the most lethal attack against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, and it happened on one of our most joyous holidays: Simchat Torah.
I want to assure our congregation that our chaverim who are in Israel for the holidays of Sukkot/Shimini Atzeret are all relatively safe. Most are in Jerusalem and surrounding areas that have not been as affected as the South of the country but they are still affected by rocket attacks. If you have close family in Israel, please let us know, and please know that our hearts are with you and them.
Shimini Atzeret and Simchat Torah this year was like no other I have ever experienced. I walked into shul that morning and heard the horrible news, a tragedy against the Jewish people that was unfolding as we were gathered together in prayer as we came together to end the Days of Awe. It was a Simchat Torah of Sadness. There is no playbook on how to handle these types of situations. Before Yizkor (the service of remembrance), I asked our congregation how many people had family and/or friends in Israel right now; around 95% of the room raised their hands. We were all in tears as we prayed for the souls of our Israeli brothers and sisters who were murdered, who were taken as hostages, for their families, and for ours. Despite the divisions we have seen in Israel and the Jewish community, we came together as one.
We questioned whether we should hold our Simchat Torah on Saturday night, and if we did, we wondered, should we dance with the Torahs? How can we dance when our brothers and sisters in Israel are hiding in their safe rooms, or even running for their lives? After much thought, we decided to hold our Simchat Torah celebration because being together was what we needed most. Our first Hakafah was a silent one, marking the silence of Israelis who hid in their safe rooms, who had to convince their children to be silent as Hamas terrorists stalked their homes. Our second Hakafah was with song, but we sang a well-known Israeli folk song, Al Kol Eileh by the Israeli artist, Naomi Shemer: “Over the honey and the stinger, Over the bitter and the sweet…Over all these, Over all these, God please watch over them for me… Watch over this house for me, my God, the garden, and the wall protect them from pain, from sudden fear and from war.” The service was one of the most painful yet beautiful religious and spiritual experiences of my life. Thank you all for bringing your whole selves to Shaarei Kodesh for the holiday - the bitter and the sweet. This is what it means to love the modern state of Israel; it is a mixture of bitter and sweet.
We are in shock, but we must not lose hope. We will get through this together, as one people, with one heart.
I humbly suggest the following from us as we begin to face the magnitude of this moment, which can be summarized through the three actions that we take during the High Holy Days
Return to Community (Teshuvah)- It’s time for us to gather together not just as a synagogue, but as a strong and united Jewish community. Join us for a rally tomorrow, October 10, 2023 at 6 pm at Congregation Bnai Israel. You MUST register beforehand - please click here for more information.
Prayer (Tefillah) - Join us this Friday night, dressed in blue and white, for a special Kabbalat Shabbat/Maariv service for Israel. We will recite a special prayer written for this tragedy, which is now being called, the Simchat Torah War. More details will follow about the service which will begin at 6:15 pm on Friday, October 13, 2023 at Shaarei Kodesh.
A Prayer for Israel in this Time of War by Rabbi Naomi Levy
A Prayer for the Shmini Atzeret War from The Rabbinical Assembly and Masorti Olami
Donate (Tzedakah) - we have received many messages from congregants asking for us to share causes to donate to in support of Israel. Unfortunately, we do not have the time to properly vet each one, so we are asking that you donate to the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County’s Emergency Israel fund (link here).
Connect - if you have family or friends in Israel, call them and write to them. Let them know we are with them during their darkest hour, and that we stand with them always.
Am Israel Chai - The Nation of Israel Lives!
Rabbi David Baum