October 13, 2023 admin

In These Terrible Times

Elohei haruchot lechol basar – Our God and God of the spirits of all flesh, send us, all Israel, our Jewish People across the world, and all humanity, strength, resilience, wisdom, courage, compassion, vision and hope in these terrible days.

I’m filled with horror, pain and disgust for what has been perpetrated by Hamas. I feel trepidation over what is now coming.

Last Shabbat was the worst day in Jewish history since the Shoah. There are no adequate words.

In their cunning and brutal mercilessness, Hamas’s terrorist mass murders were an attack on Israel, on Jews, on humanity itself, on every value and feeling that makes us truly human.

Yesterday I was on a call with a number of Israeli colleagues. ‘I’m safe,’ said a friend from Jerusalem, ‘But I’m not OK.’ How can one be? There is searing trauma across the country. Rabbis are conducting funeral after funeral. Their children have been called up, some to units whose task is to identify the dead.

Our hearts and prayers are with everyone grieving for murdered relatives and friends, in Israel, and across the world, including in our own community.

Our intense and heartfelt prayers are for the hostages, small children, old people, a woman who came on the Kindertransport, and for their desperate families. May God, who teaches that no one is more vulnerable than a hostage, and that pidyon shevu’im, the redemption of captives, takes precedence over every other cause, bring about their speedy release and safe return to their homes.

We pray for everyone wounded and traumatised, for the medical teams caring for them, for those arranging logistics and care, for everyone in Israel and across the world supporting others in their pain and anguish.

Our prayers are with Israel’s soldiers, for their safety in what will now ensue in the battle against Hamas, and for an absolute minimum of casualties.

Our prayers for human life have no political borders. We pray for the ordinary people of Gaza, helplessly caught up in this war, who want nothing to do with terrorism, but only safety, a future, life. May they find safe refuge, food and water. Israel is at war with Hamas, not with them.

We pray for safety for all our communities across the world.

We pray for a better future for everyone, one day, soon.

From where do we take strength at this time?

Firstly, from each other. ‘Zeh mechamem at halev – it warms the heart,’ said Rabbi Idit Lev, referring to how people are caring for each other, offering their homes to others forced to leave the south, bringing food to elderly people who cannot go far from their safe rooms. In a pause between sirens, said Rabbi Michael from Beer Sheva (who was formerly at Edgware Masorti) ‘I take food to Bedouin families.’ Here, too, our gathering both in person and on line, are a source of support to us all. We need to reach out to everyone isolated, whether geographically or emotionally, especially university students and children.

Our relationships with friends, leaders and communities of different faiths are also profoundly important at this time. Some people have told me of the support they have received. Others report that they have had none.

We draw strength from Torah, ‘a tree of life to those who hold fast to it.’ The Torah’s teachings, and the devotion of Jews across millennia to studying and following them, are the secret of the endurance, resilience and creativity of the Jewish People.

We draw strength from our values. Even, and especially, at this terrible time, we must not forget our core teachings: that every human being is created in God’s image; that we must try to honour and foster that sacred presence in each other (the very opposite of what terrorist and terrorising organisations seek to do); that justice and compassion are the supreme human qualities.

We draw strength from God’s world, its beauty, despite everything, its music, its call to us to love and protect it and not destroy it.

However deeply challenged, these remain the core of the Jewish faith and way of life.

I will conclude with the striking words from my colleague in the north of Israel, Raba Nathalie Lastreger: We need each other and we all need both oz va’anavah, both robust strength and inner humility at this terrible time.

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