It’s a few days in now. It feels like weeks since we got word on the Simchas Torah holiday of the devastating Hamas attacks in Israel and learned more of its barbaric gruesomeness each day. In an earlier initial post just after the holiday ended we shared some thoughts, below are some further thoughts and collected things heard, observed and internalized as the situation develops.
MONDAY’S LOCAL COMMUNAL RALLY
We went to a Community Rally for Israel on Monday night organized by the local Jewish Federation. It was a long program but the two speakers who stood out were NYS Governor Kathy Hochul and Professor Stephen Berk, a noted historian from Union College. It was a packed hall, perhaps 1000+in attendance and many more via Zoom. There were long lines to get in through security. There was a nice representation of elected officials, including US Congressman Paul Tonko (who spoke as well), NYS Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and others.
New York State Governor Kathy Hochul was quite bold and forthright in speaking of the Hamas terror atrocities and the right of Israel to fully defend itself. She also spoke of additional security and support for New York’s Jewish community at this time.
And then Governor Hochul shared from the podium a conversation she had with a Jewish student down in New York City: He was fearful of going out noticeably Jewish, he voiced concern about wearing his yarmulka (aka kippah) in public. But she encouraged him to wear his yarmulka, be proud of your heritage, don’t back down from what your ancestors stood for! It was quite the encouragement of Jewish heritage and pride – even (or especially!) in times like these.
One less than honest thing she said in her otherwise excellent speech: Those in NYS celebrating or justifying Hamas terror atrocities are not (only) white supremacists as she claimed but so called progressives & far left democrats. TBH, Sadly, it’s not only fringe elements. Such moral turpitude, intellectual dishonesty, disconnect from reality, confused conflation of issues, group-think & lack of nuance, even tacit support of terror – is far too prevalent in elite academia. It is a deeply telling & troubling sign.
Professor Stephen Berk is usually the one to give historical analysis, geopolitical perspective at communal events like these. He’s knowledgeable and eloquent. He spoke about the factors, the timing, the players. It appeared to me that he was speaking bolder and stronger and more unequivocal than usual. But the following messages were most interesting to me:
Professor Berk said something publicly that quietly lurked in back of my mind: perhaps the recent infighting, massive protests & inner division (including public threats not to enlist or show up tp reserves when called up) in Israel may have emboldened Hamas. Quoting Lincoln, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” But this attack unified it!
In closing at this communal rally by Professor Berk invoked the “Chazak vAmatz” in first chapter of Joshua, the Haftorah read on Simchat Torah, and that Israel will triumph, it will prevail though it will be difficult – It Will Be Good! I am sitting was sitting there at communal rally with my father. That “It Will Be Good” message remind him of Rebbe‘s incredibly positive and prophetic words pre 1967 Six Day War, to me, it echoes Rebbe‘s encouraging and uplifting words in 1991 during Gulf War.
IDEALISM AND REALITIES
We probably all figured 2020’s would be a more ideal world. All the technological & societal progress, all problems can be resolved by discussion & understanding… and in many areas, and for many people, we have come a very long way in this regard. But as ideal as that would be, and as much as we hope and want it to be that way, we’re not there yet. The War in Ukraine, Hamas’ terror atrocities, – we’re not there yet. We’re not. Even many interpersonal relationships aren’t there yet. For now and in this case, evil has to be fought.
Sadly, the barbaric atrocities explain things we wish Israel didn’t need: border fences, check-points, blockades, or such a heavily armed Army, for G-d’s sake! But we now see how dangerous and brutal and devasting a break and breach can be. We can’t talk our way out of this violence, though we wish we could. Perhaps one day. May it be soon!
THE ACHEINU SONG
We sang this a lot on Simchat Torah after the news filtered down to us. It has so much meaning and relevance today.
The text/song opens with “Acheinu Kol Bais Yisrael” – We are all brothers, all family, all the house of Israel. Sometimes we feel it much more.
The song mentions “from captivity to redemption” – so poignant today, as so many are held hostage (hopefully alive), including even (hard to fathom!) children and babies.
And “from darkness to light!” – may the situation turn from darkness to light! But also within ourselves, Rebbe oft-quoted “We are Workers of Light” our focus ought to be light. Indeed, as we begin the Torah anew, the very first divine utterance is: “Let there be Light!”
THINKING OF US, THE GESTURES
An old family friend, a non-Jewish woman very active in the broader community and intertwined in the Jewish community as well, popped by our house the other day. She was bearing a bouquet of roses, and she just wanted us to know that she was thinking of us. It meant so much. We got a late night personal check-in message from a member of the UAlbany senior administration. Others have called, messaged. It’s really heartwarming to know that people care, they are concerned. We hear this from others as well. Neighbors, co-workers, friends – reaching out, checking in. They saw the news, and they reached out.
Yes, it can be heart-breaking and frustrating when people don’t get it, when they don’t realize or they ignore or even deliberately misconstrue the whole thing – or worse. But there are many others who care, who feel for us and with us, who stand alongside us. It means a lot.
And the many calls from friends, alumni and others, asking about our daughter Bassie. She’s studying there for the year, BH she is well (obviously, given the circumstances). The concern and closeness means a lot.
PRESIDENT BIDEN’S SPEECH
If you haven’t seen it yet, you must see President Biden’s Speech on the October 2023 Hamas Terror Attacks in Israel. It’s refreshing to see such moral clarity! Calling a spade a spade. This has to be one of the most pro-Israel speeches of any American president, and one of the most unequivocal stands against terrorism and atrocity.
We hear from alumni, especially those in more isolated places without the benefits of a supportive Jewish community, who feel alone in times like these, and exceedingly frustrated that those around them do not see the world and the situation in Israel the way they so plainly and obviously see it. Aside for the everything else, I feel it is speeches like these that help such isolated Jews (and indeed, all of us, in times like these) feel they are not alone in thinking this way, it is supportive and reassuring.
A SINGLE MITZVAH’S BUTTERFLY & SATELLITE EFFECT
In the 1970’s the Rebbe spoke about the far-reaching global impact of even a single Mitzvah done by one person, and said there was a recent scientific research illustrating this. I don’t have it handy now but I believe it may have been regarding Shabbos candle-lighting campaign or perhaps Chanukah, our kindling light in one corner of the world, causes spiritual illumination all over. It stands to reason the Rebbe was referring to “The Butterfly Effect” which was published and popularized in the early 1970’s.
Fast-forward to 1990. That year Chabad set up “Chanukah Live” bringing together public Menorah lightings and gatherings in London and Paris, Melbourne and Johanesburg, inside the Kremlin (huge development, as it was soon after the fall of Communism!) and at the Rebbe’s synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. In today’s world of the internet and intercontinental video calling at the press of a button on a hands-held device this seems like child’s play. But back then this was considered cutting-edge technology! Big satellite trucks sat outside 770, viewing screens and big TV camera were hooked up everywhere. It was a big deal. The Rebbe watched as a Russian Jewish child said a Torah verse or blessing, and all around the world, each in their respective city and time-zone, all responded in unison – live and instantaneously! The Rebbe spoke how this shows the far-reaching global impact of even a single mitzvah of even a single child!
All this background helps us appreciate how the Rebbe often called for Mitzvah campaigns in times like these! In fact, the Rebbe launched the famous Tefillin campaign in the days before the Six Day War, the Letter in the Torah campaign during the Lebanon War etc…
Let us each increase in our daily Mitzvahs! The far-reaching ripple effects impact all of our people – including most certainly in Israel!