The War on Simhat Torah
The unfolding of the past 72 hours in Israel have been harrowing, but mostly heartbreaking on account of the murder and butchering of our fellow Israelis. It started on Saturday which was Shabbat and Simhat Torah. I woke early and heard the sound of explosions starting at 6:30 am. At first we thought it was Hamas firing some rockets near Gaza, which can sometimes be heard 50 km away. We went to synagogue, and in the middle of the dancing, the sirens started going off. Each time they did, we gathered under the reinforced balconies for safety, and then resumed our dancing, praying, and reading of the Torah. This occurred six times. Reports started to trickle in that Hamas had infiltrated into Israel, but we thought these were a few isolated incidents. We did not comprehend the full extent of the carnage until after the holiday was over at 7 pm. But even then, the number of murdered was reported at 150. This continued to rise until the number hit 700 by mid Sunday.
There are many emotions swirling about inside me, the concern for our friends’ children who are being called up to fight, the feeling of vulnerability that Israel can be penetrated and attacked, all the while accompanied by an ominous quiet, because people were advised to stay home so the roads could be free for mobilization, and the still unknown threat of terrorists who might still be about. But the most difficult is waking up to a bad nightmare of 700 dead, 2000 injured and 150 hostages. Each life taken is a child, a parent, a spouse, a whole world shattered. These are not numbers, they are people, families, our cousins and neighbors. When you multiply that by 700 it becomes too difficult to bear. This is the first war our family has experienced since moving here five years ago, and is therefore more concrete and hits home with deeper impact because we are Israeli.
Certainly, it is reassuring and inspiring to see our people come together in this time of crisis. There are campaigns to gather food, supplies and gear to send to our soldiers. There are stories of heroism beginning to emerge of policemen, border guards, soldiers and civilians standing up to the fight on the Gaza border and saving civilians. There are calls for unity amongst politicians who were bickering only a few days ago.
The events in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur when demonstrators shut down ours and other prayer services have been overshadowed by the break-out of war. But there is an ironic twist of events that does connect the two. The debates over what would happen in Tel Aviv on Simhat Torah, and what would be the reaction to men’s and women’s dance circles became moot when outdoor dancing became impossible amid missile sirens and attacks.
The deep fissures in Israeli society playing out of judicial reform, demonstrations and Yom Kippur prayers evaporated into a unified coming together in the wake of the Simhat Torah massacre. To their credit the demonstrator movement used their network to mobilize support for the communities in the south and the soldiers who were being called up. And the talk of boycotting reserve duty disappeared. The irony is of course that it took an external enemy to get us to unite internally as a people and as a country. That does not mean the issues are solved, and there will still be much work to do after the war, but we can only hope that we will all have a different outlook on how to dialogue and find solutions to navigate those differences.
There is a vast amount of uncertainty looking forward. Will a second front open up in the North with Hezbollah, and a third in Yehuda and Shomron? What are the objectives of a ground offensive into Gaza which now seems inevitable, at the least to try and free the captives? How long will this last and can it lead to greater security, but at what cost to more soldiers’ lives? How safe are we on the home front, and how many terrorists have infiltrated into Israel?
Several things do seem clear. One, there is moral clarity that Hamas is evil and must be dealt with forcefully. The Torah enjoins us in many places to recognize, stand up to, and eradicate evil. We need not equivocate. Second, we need to remain united as a people and a country, and in that is our strength. Third, there are some concrete actions we can do to help. On the home-front, we can donate blood, help the soldiers, visit the injured, give support to families who are being relocated. From abroad, we can donate to support the above, and help with the dissemination of accurate reporting and pro-Israel information to counter the media bias against Israel.
The fourth point is that in times of challenge, the Jewish people turns to the Almighty for strength. We believe in the power of prayer, and the merit of Torah study and mitzvoth. We can up our game spiritually in the merit of the soldiers who will be fighting for our country and our people. You can recite Psalms 121 and 130, the prayer for the ill, and the prayer for the IDF. And most importantly we remember the words of Psalm 20: ‘ Some (fight) with chariots, and some (fight) with horses, but we call out in the name of G-d.’ Our Torah tells us that G-d is the Shomer Israel, the guardian of Israel. The history of our people and of our country has been built on miracles, and even in the face of tragedy we turn to the Almighty and have hope that we merit His protection and help.