Chaim Y. Botwinick

‘A Time to Wreck and A Time to Build’ (Ecclesiastes 3:4)


As I write this blog, my heart is broken and my spirit is shattered. The feelings of  excruciating pain and unbearable anguish resulting from the recent brutal attacks and slaughter of  innocent women, children and men in Israel are unbearable.

Several days ago, on Shabbat/Simchat Torah,  Israel and world Jewry witnessed one of the most daunting atrocities against our brothers and sisters since the horrors of the Holocaust.

On the morning of the Hamas attack on Israel, we were praying in Shul (synagogue ).  During morning tefillot, we began to hear murmuring about serious terrorist attacks in Israel. Little did we know, realize or understand the magnitude and scope of the attacks until we returned home from Shul  that evening after Simchat Torah (Shabbat in Israel) after the Chag..

Once at home, after hearing official news reports, we were shocked and grief-stricken by the enormity of the attacks and the devastating and catastrophic details of what was occurring in southern Israel – the indiscriminate brutal slaughtering of  innocent women, children, babies and men.

Today is Thursday –  Day 6  of the war between Israel and the Hamas murderess. As of the writing of this blog, the number of Israelis who were massacred at the brutal hands of the Hamas barbarians  is in access 1500 innocent Jewish neshamot  (souls).. There are currently  thousands of injured in hospitals throughout Israel. In addition,  Hamas murderers  now hold an estimated 150 kidnapped hostages as they continue to launch rockets into Israel. All the while, the Israel Defense Force (may GD protect them)  has mobilized over 3,000 reservists on the border of Gaza and continues its bombardment of Hamas military installations and structures in Gaza, while Hamas continues its relentless firing of missiles into  populated areas of Israel.

It is now 5.30 AM and the world is awaiting Israel’s ground offense into Gaza.  When and how this happens, only HaShem knows. We are also anxiously waiting to hear how and when the 150 plus  hostages will be rescued or released, while hundreds of Israelis are trying to identify the bodies of lost ones and  are  attending funerals for families  members, friends and neighbors.

The variety of local, national and global  media outlets and cable news  networks are covering this tragedy with varying degrees of accuracy.  This coverage is in addition to emails, texts and cell phone calls to and from family members and friends in Israel, and extensive coverage of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s arrive in Israel this morning. His meetings and conversations with families of the missing  were heart wrenching and full with deep emotion.

As  parents, grandparents, spouses and Jews, the broken hearts, raw emotions and rivers of tears we  together with  Amcha Bnai Yisrael  are experiencing, have left us in a state of  shock and profound mourning for those who have perished during this massacre. Our communities feel empty, depressed, helpless and bewildered. These feelings  have motivated all of us to recite tehillim continuously with greater rigor and engage in special tefillot with greater  kavana.

In addition to offering airlifted supplies and material support through special tzadakka campaigns, our schools and Jewish communal institutions in the United Stated  have been mobilized are engaged in a wide variety of programs including fundraising, collections of  clothing, food and dry goods and the penning of letters of support to  IDF soldiers on the front lines. To be sure, our communities in the diaspora stay ready and able to help assist Israel  in any way possible.

All of these activities take place  while we are glued to news reports and updates coming out of Israel. These updates take place  between the thousands of  cell phone and zoom calls to relatives and friends in Israel with the sole purpose of hearing their voices and seeing their faces. I cannot imagine a time like this in the absence of this technology.

A Personal Perspective

As I try hard to focus on the recitation of tehillim (psalms) and special prayers with only several  hours of slept and shattered nerves, I cannot help but reflect on the fact that its only been several weeks since Rosh Hashasha and Yom Kippurr – a period of deep introspection, repentance, reflection, and prayer.

In the Unetanah Tokef prayer recited on these holidays, we read…that on Rosh Hashana and on Yom Kippur our fate is sealed – how many will  pass away and how many shall be born, who shall live and who shall die, who in good time and who by an untimely death, who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who shall be at peace and who pursued, who shall be be serene and who will be tormented.

This deeply profound prayer and poem now forces me on a very personal level to reflect on how I personally felt two weeks ago when reciting these passages. Truth is, the tragic events in Israel in such close proximity to Rosh Hashsana and Yom Kippur,  has and will change the meaning of Unetanah Tokef in my mind, heart and soul forever.. This tefilla and poem  is now seared in my heart, soul and memory in ways never before imaginable.

There are those who will read this blog and will opine that it should not take such a tragic event in Israel to feel such a profound and deep understanding regarding the Unetanah Tokef.  To them I say, you are 100% correct. But, as we know, we are all human, and we all have our  tipping points of human condition which stirs the soul, emotions, minds and hearts.

Who would have predicted or imagined at that time – less then two weeks after reciting this tefilla –  that we would be faced with such tragic atrocities in Israel of historic magnitude and  proportions.

Another striking relationship between the holiday of Sukkot and the current tragic events in Israel is punctuated by the reading of Kohelet  (Ecclesiastes).

In Kohelet, the great masterpiece written by King Solomon. we are sadly reminded about the frailty of our  human condition  and that one day soon through HaShem’s will, we will all experience true salvation, redemption and ever lasting  shalom

It is up to the individual  as to how and when we make these personal relationships resonate during this most dark period in our history.

Finally, as we know,  this is not time for blog editorials, blame-games or personal opinions as to why, and how such a tragedy has befallen our people. For one, it is truly beyond my comprehension. Rather, its a time for consoling and praying; it is a time to recite  tehillim provide support for grieving families and for our soldiers who are protecting our families in Israel.

As we desperately seek a glimmer of light in a turbulent sea of deep dark blackness, we all pray to Hashem that our Israeli brothers and sisters will try to heal from their  unimaginable personal losses and deeply painful anguish.

May Hashem watch over and protect  the people of Eretz Yisrael and may HaShem bless the IDF with bracha and hatzlacha, as they continue to embark upon  existential threats to our people and to all of humanity.

B’sorot Tovot

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is a senior executive coach and an organizational consultant . He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami; in addition to head of school and principal for several Jewish day schools and yeshivot. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, resource development, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011
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