Each year we always share the message that we in the diaspora have custom to dance Hakafot on Shemini-Atzeret night in solidarity with Israel, and they dance (Sheniyot) with us on our Simchas Torah (when their one-day holiday ends) – but this year, sadly, very tragically, this took on a whole new meaning.
At the prayers on Shemini-Atzeret morning (here in Albany) a student walked in and told us some horrifying terrifying news from Israel. It seemed almost impossible to believe. We didn’t know/understand extent, but knew there were widespread devastating terror attacks.
What is a rabbi to say? First thing that came to mind was this “3 Words that Saved a Village” story but Raizy said it was premature to share that – that’s a later story, not amid the death and destruction. It’s too soon to share that (just as the Rebbe waited in that story). So I didn’t share that – but will have share at a later time. Then Raizy recommended this heartfelt Simchas Torah story about a man named Heyshke Gansburg on a Simchas Torah in 1969. It is a story of resilience and faith. “Water won’t drown us, Fire will not burn us!” Israel will prevail! We are a resilient people! We shared that story by Shemini-Atzeret lunch. Raizy’s father Rabbi Galperin sang the Russian song in the story, and gave it context and background.
Later that night was Simchas Torah here. It’s Fall Break at UAlbany, so it was just a precious few of us. Even if we didn’t yet know the extent of the attacks and their horrors, we were all weighted by them, it was on all our hearts and minds. But like the story of Heyshke Gansburg and in the spirit of Jewish resilience and like many who came before us – we danced that night away. We danced and danced, both on the men’s side and women’s side, it went strong for hours, ending at midnight. We sang songs of Israel and Jerusalem, especially “Acheinu” which we sang several times throughout the night, especially for its poignantly relevant words: “free them from captivity to redemption…”
Some students had a hard time dancing. Some of our students knew of people missing, not yet accounted for. One student knows two people being held captive hostage in Gaza! Some of our students have friends or relatives in the IDF. One student attended a seminary located close to the areas of the attacks, and it especially hit home. But somehow all danced, at least for part of it. The joy or attempt at it itself has a redemptive uplifting power, especially as we danced for our brethren in Israel who couldn’t dance this Simchat Torah…
We get the Sunday morning “Times-Union” newspaper delivered each Sunday, and Sunday was still holiday for us. I don’t remember any newspaper ever as well and closely read by nearly everyone who came here for the prayers. And the newspaper confirmed our worst fears that the horrible news that we heard from the student and couldn’t believe was true, worse than we imagined. We said the Mishebayerch for the IDF with extra feeling at each Torah reading. Some of those words just jump off the page at you in times like these.
Our daughter Bassie is studying for the year in Israel. She spent the Sukkot holiday away from her seminary: first with family in Kiryat Malachi (which is quite close to the action from Gaza) then a few days in Jerusalem, and the final day of the holiday in Kfar Chabad. We got a message via a non-Jewish student friend whom Bassie texted after her holiday in Israel was over (and we still had another day of holiday) that she was OK. Later we got another message the same way that the school bussed them back up north, close to their dorms, but in a different dorm with larger bomb shelters. After the holiday Bassie told us that she lost a shoe while running into a bomb shelter while still in Israel’s center, see this Shoes tweet I retweeted from Rabbi Zalman Teichtel and Chabad.org before the holiday, now with a totally different and much unexpected meaning…
…and then after the holiday when we saw some of the horrific heartwrenching images and footage… Hashem Yinkom Damam!
For now UAlbany is on Fall Break, and there will be events on campus to show support for Israel and concern and solidarity with the victims, their families and those in dangerous captivity, including children. Stay tuned for that this week after Fall Break. For now we’ll be joining the Albany area Jewish community and Jewish Federation at a community rally on Monday evening, and students up here can join us.
We don’t have answers, but if helpful to call/chat/come-over, happy to be there for friends in times like these.
And now is a time for us to increase in Mitzvot – to affix a Mezuzah, to wear Tefillin, to light Shabbos candles this week, and to give charity and to say Psalms. There are recommended Psalms but really any psalm works. It’s a prayer from the heart in Judaism’s age-old timeless informal book of prayers. You can find Psalms here by chapter in Hebrew and English on Chabad.org
Some students and alumni reached out suggesting various charities to give in support of Israel needs at this time, we’ll try to put a short list together. And there are many ways we can support Israel. Social-media support is also a support in times like these.