Shmuel Polin
ניט מיט שעלטן/לאַכן קען מען די וועלט איבערמאַכן

Explaining the chaos of Har Nof to children

Several weeks have passed since the horrific Har Nof synagogue massacre. Out of the madness, I searched for a silver lining to explain the chaos to children.

When the news story broke, it revealed the following: According to the NYTimes, There has been a terrorist attack at “Kehilat Bnei Torah, a part of a five-story domed complex that houses several prayer groups and a community hall popular for weddings, film screenings, and speeches. Neighbors said it was abuzz 24 hours a day, drawing many strains of ultra-Orthodoxy.”

CNN reported “The four killed were all rabbis: Avraham Shmuel Goldberg zt’’l, 58; Aryeh Kupinsky zt’’l, 43; Moshe Twersky, 59 zt’’l; and Kalman Levine zt’’l, 55. Goldberg was a dual British-Israeli citizen, and the other three were U.S.-Israeli citizens — which is why the FBI is investigating the attack, according to a U.S. law enforcement official.”

Twenty four hours after the attack a fifth victim, Israeli officer Master Sargent Zidan Sayif HY’’D fell victim to wounds suffered in the ensuing gun battle with the terrorists of the massacre.

I teach 5th grade Hebrew and Israeli education at a local Shul. In the next week of classes we observed, in our classroom, a moment of silence for our fallen brothers in Israel. The students then began asking questions.

“Why are we hated?” “Why do the Arabs not want us to live?” “What did we do wrong?” “Will we ever live in peace?” “How did some survive the attack?” “Are Americans safe in Israel?” “Are there no good Arabs?”

Sometimes, preparing a lesson for children on such a sensitive topic reminds an educator of the big picture, otherwise ignored by emotional or personal responses. My big picture was: There are good people and bad; good Arabs and bad Arabs just as there are good Jews and bad Jews. It has also been my experience that most dramatic events bear witness to the best and worst in people. In these attacks we witnessed some of the worst types of Arabs and one of the greatest types of Arabs.

On one hand we had some of the worst, Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal, from East Jerusalem.

Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal, the Palestinian assailants who entered into Kehilat Bnei Torah wielding knives and axes killed five people throughout the attack of the Jerusalem synagogue.

Chassan and Odau Abu Jamal represent the worst people in the Palestinian-Arab community. There repulsive acts have been unanimously and unequivocally condemned by hardliners and moderates alike in the Palestinian Authority. Within the 24 hours of the attack, Mahmud Abbas was quoted as saying “Consequently, today the presidency denounces the killing of worshipers at a place of worship in West Jerusalem,”

On the other hand, the bright side we had an Arab hero: Zidan Sayif HY’”D. TabletMag reported on “Zidan Sayif HY’’D, the 30-year-old Druze police officer who charged into the synagogue and engaged the assailants, likely averting a far greater massacre, is just as worthy of remembrance, not only in the media, but also by the Jewish community that he gave his life to protect.”

Sayid HY’”D leaves behind a 3 month old daughter, and wife. In the weeks following the attack, Zidan Sayid HY’”D will be receiving an Israeli Medal of Honor. The Honor, the Medal of Distinguished Service, is the nation’s 3rd-highest honor.

Sayid’s HY’’D funeral grossed a large attendance in Jerusalem. It drew crowds from all segments of Israeli society, and also included President Rivlin. The funeral attracted hundreds of Jews and over a hundred members of the Haredi community, who offered carpools and provided free transportation to the Druze village of Yanuh-Gat, where Sayif is being laid to rest.

When asked why, one Haredi responded with “I saw the picture of him with his daughter and thought that it is obligatory to join someone who gave his life for the people of Israel… The minimum expression of gratitude we can give to someone who protected the worshipers of our neighborhood and sacrificed his life is to attend his funeral.” Another Haredi was interviewed as saying, “He gave us his life–we can dedicate the time to honor him and comfort his family.”

One Haredi activist who helped organize community attendance at the funeral of Sayid HY’’D was quoted in saying, “We are calling for widespread solidarity throughout Israel, with an emphasis on gratitude,” she said. “We will not be ungrateful and will show our thanks for those who sacrificed their lives for us. This is one of the most important principles in Judaism.”

The horrific Har Nof synagogue massacre was designed to jeopardize relations, drive a divide between the Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, but the silver lining is it could instead bring us closer together bridging divides with interfaith dialogue.

About the Author
Shmuel Polin is an imminent rabbi from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). A Greater Philadelphia/New Jersey native, he completed his B.A. at American University in Washington D.C. where he studied Jewish Studies and International Studies. He also completed both an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from Gratz College of Melrose Park, Pennsylvania. His thesis focused on the depiction of European antisemitism in 1930's-1940's American and foreign cinema. Shmuel has years of experience of teaching Hebrew School at Kehillat HaNahar of New Hope, Pennsylvania, leading as a student rabbi at Beth Boruk Temple (Richmond, Indiana) and Temple Israel (Paducah, Kentucky), and also working for Israeli non-governmental organizations. Currently living in Cincinnati, he is finishing up his studies at HUC-JIR, while serving as the rabbinic intern of Adath Israel.
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