On Friday night, the eve of Simchat Torah, I was vacationing with my family in a hotel in Shfayim, a kibbutz in central Israel. During dinner, we spoke about the meaning of the word “home” and contemplated whom and what we wish to embrace within our home in the year ahead. We expressed our desires for love, good health, happiness, tranquillity, and the ability to lead a normal, peaceful life. Little did we realize that our lives would be turned upside down shortly.
The following morning, on Shabbat, the sky fell, and reality, as we know it, utterly changed. The homes of thousands of Israelis, which are supposed to be a haven, the safest place in the world, were turned into a death trap. The horrors that transpired on Shabbat are still unraveling, leaving us speechless. They were an expression of unfathomable evil, reminiscent of the dark chapters of history, conjuring images of pogroms we believed we would never witness again. The feeling in Israel is of the complete failure of numerous governmental systems, precisely when their effectiveness was most crucial.
Amid the darkness, a beacon of hope emerges through the overwhelming solidarity of ordinary Israelis, ready to assist wherever help is required. In these past few days, numerous initiatives have sprung to life. People from all walks of life are extending a hand, whether donating blood, gathering toys and clothing for the displaced families from the South, or preparing meals for our soldiers. Every call for help has been met with an outpouring of responses within minutes.
The current reality has brought about surreal situations. This week, our Reform congregation in Mevasseret Zion united to collect essential supplies, including food and toys, for families uprooted from the southern town of Netivot. When I delivered these items, an air raid siren suddenly blared. Without hesitation, we all rushed to the nearby shelter. Still, as we ran, the people from Netivot told me they were not overly concerned because they had a minute and a half to reach the shelter – a luxury compared to their previous situation in Netivot. They also mentioned that on Shabbat, they experienced approximately fifty air raid alarms, so having one or two alarms per day (which is currently the case in the Jerusalem area) was seen by them as a significant improvement.
The outpouring of love and support worldwide is an additional wellspring of strength for us. It is truly challenging to grasp the full extent of the ramifications of the events that are unfolding this week. The magnitude of pain is almost unbearable. In the very same hotel where my family and I enjoyed a vacation just a few days ago, dozens of refugees evacuated from the South are now housed, each bearing harrowing tales of survival. Our prayers are fervently directed towards better days filled with peace and tranquility. We yearn for a time when our homes will again be sanctuaries of safety for us, a true “sukkat shalom” – abode of peace.