Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Saturday, October 7, 2023
In This Moment: Israel's 9/11 - The Simchat Torah War
In This Moment
While it is not my practice to send out emails on a festival, today's brutal and unprecedented attack on the people of Israel requires us all to be on emergency footing. What happened today is being called Israel's 9/11, and for good reason. Current reports cite 250 Israeli fatalities and 1,500 injuries, with a large number of hostages.
There will be plenty of opportunity to investigate how Hamas was able to inflict such damage, but now is not the time for that. There are parallels to the outbreak of Yom Kippur War, whose 50th anniversary on the secular calendar was Friday, Perhaps that was intentional. But again, it's not relevant now.
What matters now is that we come together on behalf of the people of Israel. I hope an emergency war government can be formed, as has been suggested by leaders of the major parties. That would go a long way toward unifying the people for the battles that undoubtedly lie ahead. A prerequisite for the opposition leaders joining would be the sidelining of the current government's most radical elements. Yair Lapid stated that today. That would in turn place on hold their radical agenda for judicial overhaul and it might help preserve the Saudi peace initiative, which was undoubtedly Iran's main target in (likely) orchestrating today's attack.
Hamas's increasing brazenness had been tolerated too much for the past decade. But this goes way beyond anything that has happened before: premeditated slaughter on an industrial scale. These are not crimes of passion. They are crimes against humanity. The sheer cruelty of these murders has shocked even those who normally are inclined to blame Israel for everything, Just look at the headlines in Sunday's British press (see below and click on them for larger size). Show these front pages to your college student or anyone else who has been on the front lines of Israel's defense. There are things that Israel has done that are hard to defend. But this can never be justified. I suspect Gaza's governing structure will look quite different when the dust settles. Let's hope Israel can accomplish its aims with maximal diplomatic dexterity and minimal loss of innocent life (including the hostages taken by Hamas).
As for us, we need to be prepared to closely follow events on the ground, to separate truth from fiction, and plain facts from spin. That is always hard to do in the fog of war, and especially with regard to Israel.
Our most immediate question involves Simchat Torah. It's hard to imagine being able to celebrate with the Torah scrolls tomorrow morning, what with literally hundreds of funerals of terror victims taking place at the same time in Israel (where the holiday will have ended). And yet, that is precisely what we must do. Below is a passage from a book written just after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when the same question was asked as Simchat Torah approached.
So the festival will go on tomorrow, with our Torah scrolls and musicians. Naturally, things will be subdued, as they should be. But there is no better way to teach the next generation about the Jewish people's resilience than by demonstrating our eternal love for the Torah and for the values embedded therein, especially "Love your neighbor as yourself."
If we were to cancel services - or even just the hakafot (processions) - nothing would be gained. But if we were all to come in large numbers to TBE on Sunday morning, to sing, dance (a little) and celebrate the great volunteer efforts of Sue and Carl Shapiro, our honorees, it would send a message that will reverberate far beyond our walls. There is nothing more important for us to be doing tomorrow. That pickle ball tournament, round of golf or brunch can wait, and you can DVR the Sunday talk shows.
Tomorrow is Simchat Torah. Your place is here, with your family.. Tomorrow. we'll pray for Israel.
I woke up early, and headed out on a brief walk. Mere blocks from my apartment, I was jolted by two abrupt booms. Their origin was initially ambiguous, but the distant wail of air raid sirens soon clarified the situation: an attack was in progress. This was the onset of the war. I sprinted home.
In the subsequent three hours, over 2,000 rockets targeted various Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Beersheva. These assaults acted as a smokescreen for a multifaceted ground offensive Hamas mounted against settlements and military bases. Israel was taken wholly off-guard. Hamas militants breached parts of the border fence, while others infiltrated Israel’s airspace using gliders.
Despiter Israel's advanced defense mechanisms, the militants successfully stormed the IDF’s Gaza Battalion headquarters. The assailants overwhelmed 22 kibbutzim and towns, resorting to house-to-house armed attacks, executing numerous residents, and abducting others. Throughout this ordeal, repeated desperate pleas for military assistance echoed from besieged kibbutz members.
At the same time, militants seized a police station in Sderot, executing civilians in broad daylight. A comparable tragedy unfolded in Ofakim, where a family was taken hostage. In a nearby forest, a vast desert nature celebration was underway. This became another target for the Hamas attackers.
Throughout the day, Israeli reservists were mobilized, with thousands, especially from elite units, all rushing to the area surrounding Gaza. By the evening, control had been re-established over most areas, but fighting persisted, including a hostage situation in Kibbutz Be’eri and the siege of the S’derot police station. Rocket strikes continued into the night, some evading the Iron Dome, wreaking havoc in the Tel Aviv region. Current reports cite 250 fatalities and 1,500 injuries, with a large number of hostages. As of this writing (11 PM on October 7th, 2023), the full extent of what took place today is still unknown. All of these numbers are tragically expected to climb.