Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale — The Bayit found himself with family members in Israel celebrating his wife Toby’s 80th birthday last weekend.
“It was heaven on earth,” the retired rabbi told The Bayit congregation in a video. “And then the heavens exploded when a few days later on Simchat Torah there was an invasion in the south.
“And the pictures. Pictures of little children being carted away, unknown to them, in cages. Stories of how the enemy comes in and mows down, butchers hundreds of people who are dancing and singing.”
That was how congregants of the orthodox synagogue learned second hand about the atrocity in Israel after Hamas fired thousands of rockets and terrorists into such cities as Ashkelon where there were many casualties.
Rabbi Weiss referred to efforts back home in Riverdale who are trying to do all they can to find out about loved ones in Israel and what they can do to help. “I know my larger family in Riverdale and beyond with (Rabbi) Steven’s (Exler) leadership you are doing your share,” he said.
The Bayit has already set up links on its homepage for places to donate and volunteer. On the list there are links to UJA Israel Emergency Fund, United Hatzalah in Israel, Magen David Adom, to name a few. The synagogue also held its own get together to sing, pray and support one another on Monday. They also particpated in Tuesday’s large UJA Federation of New York rally in midtown Manhattan.
The Riverdale Y, which runs a partnership with Riverdale synagogues, also has set up ways to collect donations to help families in Israel and work with the Riverdale community to secure synagogues and other Jewish organizations locally.
“We continue to be vigilant about security and we are in constant communication with the NYPD and the local 50th Precinct,” said Melissa Sigmond, Riverdale Y chief executive. “We are part of the ongoing neighborhood patrols to keep the Jewish community safe.”
She mentioned at the end of the annual Torah reading on the holiday of Simchat Torah congregants recited the following line: chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek. That translates to “Be strong. Be strong. Let’s strengthen one another.”
“During this time of immense challenge and need, may we find strength in our love and support for one another,” she added.
On the first day of school following the attacks, SAR High School mobilized its students to address the situation in Israel. Together they mourned, wrote letters to Israeli officers who are SAR alumni and prayed.
“So many of our students are so closely connected to people who are directly affected by the terrrorism,” said Rabbi Jonathan Kroll, SAR High School principal.
“Therefore, we teach students about what is happening and that it is critical that we engage their hearts as well as their minds.”
What is ironic, or maybe so ironic depending on the reason for timing of Hamas’ attack, is that much of the Jewish community in Israel and abroad focused on the implications of marking 50 years since the Yom Kippur war. That war brought a sense of trauma to the country, when 2,500 soldiers were killed.
It was the most devastating event in the history of the state of Israel. That war lasted just three weeks.
In 1973, Yom Kippur fell on Oct. 6. In the secular calendar, this past Friday marked 50 years to the day. Two days ago at 6:30 a.m. on Shabbat Hamas attacked Israel. In less than 48 hours, more than 700 people had been killed.
SAR High School: These last two days have brought shocking news and images. The losses are severe. So many were injured. Many civilians remain in danger. The situation is precarious and difficult to comprehend, leaving the Jewish community shocked and angry. So many families are in pain and mourning the loss of loved ones. Hamas has violated every convention of war. There were no uniforms, they attacked civilians, and used human shields.
“This is not about being right or left, whatever the politics,” says Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, principal and high school dean. “This is evil behavior and we must respond with strength. This is a time to join together in achdut, in a spirit of unity.”
On Monday morning, SAR High School students and faculty gathered as a school community, connecting with each other and with their brothers and sisters in Israel. In the wake of this national calamity, they gathered in prayer.
During the program, former SAR Judaic Studies Teacher Yossi Ben Harush addressed students and faculty live from Israel, sharing his personal insight on what was happening there and encouraging everyone to practice the words of the famous Yom Kippur prayer,
Unetaneh Tokef, that focuses on Teshuva, Tefillah and Tzedakah (repentance, prayer and charity).
Most of the day Monday students mobilized in many ways. During lunchtime, there was a kumzitz and letter writing program. These letters will be delivered to soldiers who are currently serving.
There was also a special afternoon prayer service dedicated to the safety of siblings of current students who are serving in the Israeli Defense Force. Additional programs and projects that show support for Israel and the Jewish people.