It’s been a week and a half since the horrific terrorist invasion in Israel, and we’re not all right.
We’ve been in a state of shock, distraught and traumatized by the savage massacre that happened on what was supposed to be a happy holiday, Simchat Torah. The horrendous images are burned in our brains, the accounts of the disgusting atrocities, and all the lives that were so brutally cut short.
It’s beyond comprehension. How could this happen?
Yes, we have deep and emotional ties to Israel. Some of us lived and studied there for gap years. I was a student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem during my junior year of college, and my roommate, Carmela, was Israeli. She insisted that I speak to her only in Hebrew, for which I’m forever grateful, and we became close friends. Since then, I’ve visited often, and just last winter I walked the Jerusalem streets, which were bustling with life.
Many of us have relatives and friends who live in Israel, or who made aliyah. Their sons and daughters may have been called up by the IDF to serve. We know people who have spent hours in bomb shelters, who have been displaced, and whose lives are not going to be the same again.
But even if you haven’t any real connection to Israel, how could anyone not be upset, repelled, and angered by the recent horror and atrocities?
On the news they’re calling it Israel’s 9/11, and it does feel similar on some level. Those horrific images also were seared into our brains. At that time, my family was living in Riverdale, and for weeks we witnessed, from our balcony, the smoke and remnants of burning towers all the way from downtown. For months, we saw the pictures of people who were killed that day in the newspapers and on television.
But the attack in Israel was a whole other level of evil, similar to the Holocaust. New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams put it succinctly in his powerful address at the New York Stand With Israel rally.
“We are not all right,” he said. “And we’re not going to say we have a stiff upper lip and act like everything is fine. Everything is not fine.”
Last Shabbat, Rabbi Elliot Schrier of Teaneck’s Congregation Bnai Yeshurun spoke about the importance of acknowledging our deep feelings and grief, and then taking action to support Israel. There are so many ways to show our support and solidarity with our brothers and sisters there.
People have donated money and items of clothing, baked challah, and attended Tehillim, and prayer groups. There have been rallies attended by thousands.
We don’t have to be rendered helpless.
Stepping up to the plate for Israel and taking action also helps alleviate some of our anxiety and grief. I attended the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County’s “Unite for Israel” gathering at Votee Park in Teaneck on October 12. It was an inspirational evening filled with poignant speeches, recitation of Tehillim, singing, and spontaneous dancing.
People of all ages were there, but it was the children who caught my eye. They were draped in Israeli flags, singing together while holding hands and dancing in a circle, and waving flags. They were joyous, and it was infectious. Their innocence and hope lifted our spirits, and then the adults joined, and began dancing and singing to the song “Am Yisrael Chai.”
Teaneck Councilwoman Karen Orgen, who was one of the main organizers, estimated that approximately 2,000 attended. She described how it all came together.
“After this attack, we felt helpless and didn’t know what to do with ourselves,” she said. “We needed to do something to show our solidarity with Israel in Teaneck, and come together to cry, pray, give charity, and to bring hope, and that’s what we did.”
The rally’s content came from Rabbi Daniel Fridman of the Teaneck Jewish Center and Rabbi Binyamin Krohn of the Young Israel of Teaneck, who is the president of the Rabbinic Council of Bergen County, and many local rabbis led the recitation of Tehillim.
Ms. Orgen said that the security detail was extremely supportive and strong. “I want to give a special thank you to Township Manager Dean Kazinci, who is always available to support all of Teaneck’s residents when they are hurting, and Police Chief Andrew McGurr and the entire Teaneck Police Department for keeping us safe during the event,” she said.
People at the rally came not only from Teaneck but from nearby towns.
“The gathering last week for Israel was truly one of the highlights of my life,” Sorella Schiller of Teaneck, 90, said. “Seeing so many people of all ages, of all religious and political affiliations showing their support of Israel gave me a tremendous feeling of optimism and pride.
“We all have a common goal that the Israeli people should be able to live in peace with their neighbors.”
“There was a genuine feeling of unity and love in the crowd, ending with singing and dancing together,” Joel Geliebter of Teaneck said. “At the end of the evening, people were smiling. I spoke to several others, and they felt similar feelings to mine, that the gathering calmed and uplifted their spirits.”
It was a large and diverse group, but we were united in our emotions. As I looked around the Votee field, I saw tears and eyes closed in prayer, and when we sang “Hatikvah” at the conclusion, each word rang true and had a deep meaning.
There is truly strength in numbers. Am Yisrael Chai!