When Murray asked me to do this month’s d’var, I readily agreed once I realized it was Murray from Federation and not the Murray from Temple Beth Ahm asking me to do the d’var at their upcoming Board meeting! Too many Murray’s in my Jewish life!
As with most d’var’s, I initially started thinking through what I might say and how to relate it to Bereshit–the upcoming parsha. I was definitely having trouble getting started because with Bereshit there are so many ways to go.
And then came the pogroms from Hamas shaking every Jew everywhere to the bone personally with atrocities beyond belief and single-day death totals beyond anything since the holocaust with evil that was seemingly beyond belief. And its reality, and the fact that it was 50 years almost to the day since the Yom Kippur war, which has so many parallels to our present situation, was immediately in front of all of us with the wonders of today’s instant communication capabilities. Looking at the TV screen it was as if we were reliving elements of the worst times of our Jewish history including the Yom Kippur War. But this was really different. This time the attackers were not Arab armies against military targets, they were terrorists from a Palestinian enclave randomly committing such loathsome atrocities. Also, for many Jews and non-Jews, and that surely includes me whose office was in the Trade Center and lost many friends and co-workers the horror I lived through on 9/11 was all brought back.
Every one of us has a special relationship with Israel. We aren’t Israeli and love being American Jews, but more importantly, we are all Jews and Israelis wherever we are in the world. I know that some of our non-Jewish friends have difficulty understanding that relationship, which is different from other ethnic groups such as our Italian or Irish friends who surely care about their homeland but we know it isn’t the same. Israel is not our home, but it is our homeland in a way different from any other religious or ethnic group here in America. Regardless of our politics, religious practice, or beliefs, every Jew has some connection to Israel personally and emotionally that I think it is really hard for non-Jews to understand. BUT WE UNDERSTAND IT and live it every day. What happens there is happening to all Jews in such a visceral way that maybe it is only a Jew who can really understand.
I called my son, who many of you know is a conservative rabbi in Burlington, VT, What he told me that day and he later put in a Facebook post and a letter to his congregation, was that during Simchat Torah we sing “Acheinu.” It is a traditional Jewish prayer for the release of Jews from captivity. And we also did that prayer last night in Long Branch at Chabad of the Shore. We talked about–as we have before–how sad yet predictable it was that our people have been so frequently taken from their everyday lives and are held hostage and/or killed in seemingly every generation. And because of that, we needed to have a special prayer added to the siddur.
As I have now thought about it, there really is an unfortunate direct parallel to this horror we are living through happening on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Every year as we end the Torah, we turn around and start it all over again. What has hit me is that unfortunately, this repetitiveness is also the story of the Jewish people having to deal with evil and hate over and over again throughout our existence. It just doesn’t go away.
Why? Why has this been the Jewish fate? Why has this been happening to us over thousands of years? At the Passover Seder, there is a section where we ask that question directly and as I thought about this dvar it hit me directly that in some ways it is just like Simchat Torah because it’s happened again just like Bereshit happens again and again. From the Romans to the Crusades, to the Spanish Inquisition, to Russian and Polish pogroms, to all that took place in the Holocaust to the War of Independence in 1948. But in the last 75 years we had 1956, the 1967 war, the Yom Kippur war in 1973, the Lebanese wars of the 70s, the first and second intifada, the second Lebanon war in 2006 and so many so-called “minor” events in between up to where we are today.
Somehow–to me–this feels like Simchat Torah, but in such a different way. Our history and what took place this past week just keeps going round and round and it never ends.
When it was time to dance around the Torah at my son’s synagogue, he said that some congregants were questioning whether or not it was appropriate to do so since Simchat Torah is such a joyous time. His response to that was that Jewish dancing is actually a form of prayer, so we need to dance now more than ever. Israelis were hiding in bomb shelters and safe rooms being held captive or brutally attacked and murdered. They have been robbed of the ability to do the mitzvah of dancing with the Torah. By holding hands and dancing in circles around the Torah singing Am Yisroel Chai our unified light will ripple out to the collective body and soul of our people. And then–last night in Long Branch–Rabbi Schapiro said basically the same thing–that the let there be light that G-d created the world with is how Jews have always responded to the tragedies that have befallen us and shown the way to survive.
As is true with most parents, it was good to realize how smart my son actually is.
As always, we move on and do what we can, not only to cope, but also to do all we can for our fellow Jews. Here at Federation, we are a conduit for that. We must grieve, but we can’t sit still. WE MUST DO!
This situation stinks. But we are doing what we must–and we are doing it very well. Be very proud of how we have responded. I surely wish all of this hadn’t happened–but we are the right ones in the right place at the right time. It’s just how I felt after 9/11. Susan and Dan and the whole staff are really doing a tireless and unbelievable job.
While we mourn for all the death, destruction and barbarism, WE MUST DO–AND WE ARE! Despite all we have witnessed in the last few days, eventually, we will be all right, but, unfortunately, we will never be the same.