Saturday morning. Shabbat. Shemini Atzeret. Simchat Torah in Israel. Z'man Simchateinu we call it in our liturgy, the season of our joy. As I left for the synagogue on Saturday morning, I heard breaking news about fighting in Israel once more, an unprovoked attack by Hamas. It called to mind the attack on Yom Kippur fifty years ago which I spoke about on Yom Kippur a few days back. Then I had shared my memories of arriving in Israel a week after fighting had begun and I quoted from aerograms saved by my mother, that I had sent to my parents back then in 1973, describing what I was experiencing at the time.
While the haftarah was being read, on Saturday, I took a break, went into my office, and checked my phone and found an email from the Jewish Federations of North America with an update on the situation as of that time. I returned to the pulpit and shared that message about the early count of casualities and the intensive bombing that had continued. We were about to offer the prayer for Israel that we recite every week and, as we did so, we offered silent prayers for our friends and relatives who live there or are visiting and for all the people of Israel, particularly for the Israel Defense Forces. We went on to recite the Yizkor memorial prayers and again, they had special meaning as we offered the prayer from our siddur for those who had given their lives to establish the State of Israel, to defend it, and for those who had died in acts of terror through the years.
One of our members left the sanctuary briefly to take a call from a relative in Israel who was notifying him that his family was safe, but that his two sons had been called up by the IDF to serve.
As the weekend progressed, we began to understand the horrific, inhuman actions of this intractable enemy: the murder of women and children, old people and babies. The death toll mounted to over 600 or more victims. We also learned of the kidnapping of some one hundred people, again young men and women, mothers and their babies, as well as non-combatant men, some disabled, as well as some soldiers. Their fate is still unknown even now. Clearly the comparisons with the Yom Kippur War, ended with the choice of a date. This was no longer what we might consider warfare, but was more akin to a pogrom, a massacre of innocents, a brutal attack upon the Jewish people without provocation and without mercy.
Israel is now at war once again and, while we have no doubt that many innocent people in Gaza will suffer the consequences of their leaders' actions, the Israeli Defense Forces will not seek vengeance and destruction in kind. They will not follow the brutality of Hamas, but they will attack in a powerful response to these horrific acts of terror and, as they always do, they will warn innocents to seek to escape or find shelter from the bombardments and whatever other actions follow. Many, unfortunately, will die as "collateral damage" because of the brutality of Hamas, but we do not expect the kind of savagery from the IDF as was perpetrated by Hamas.
Arriving at the Temple today, I found a bouquet of roses on the door handle without any note. We heard from a church group that plans to come by later today and offer prayers for Israel and the Jewish community out in our parking lot. As I sat down at my desk, the doorbell rang, and a local Catholic priest I had never met, came in and offered his support and prayers for Israel and for us. We have received messages of support and prayers from neighbors of the Temple and from other people in the community and this has been a source of strength and comfort to us all.
As we hear more from our friends and relatives in Israel, we reaffirm our support of the Jewish State. Political divisions have been set aside in the face of this existential threat to the peace and security of the State. We continue to be shocked and disturbed by the sheer savagery of the enemy and offer our prayers and support to those who have already lost love ones. To those who have been injured by the attacks we pray for a full and speedy recovery, refuah shelemah. Our concern continues as we await news of the fate of the hostages and we pray for their safe return to their families very soon.
The transformation of joyous festival days into a time of trauma and mourning reverses the words of the Psalmist who says in Psalm 30, which we read daily, "You have turned my mourning into dancing, You have opened my sackcloth and girded me in joy." As we stand firmly with our brethren in Israel, we pray for peace, for an end to bloodshed, and a time when the Psalmist's words will come true, when mourning gives way to a time of joy and all people learn to live together in peace and harmony.