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I was in the Halle synagogue

All we wanted was a day of introspection and a sense of community; instead, we faced the kind of darkness that has shaken my faith
The scene in Halle, Germany, after a gunman unsuccessfully attacked the synagogue there, and then shot and killed two passersby. (Facebook, Naomi Henkel-Guembel)
The scene in Halle, Germany, after a gunman unsuccessfully attacked the synagogue there, and then shot and killed two passersby. (Facebook, Naomi Henkel-Guembel)

Nothing will be the same again. And while none of us was injured, this event obviously leaves its imprint on each and everyone of us. I just slowly start to grasp what happened to us on Wednesday, on Yom Kippur, a day at which we are supposed to uncover the deepest aspects of our character and being.

  • “We usually think of ourselves as sitting the driver’s seat, with ultimate control over the decisions we made and the direction our life takes; but, alas, this perception has more to do with how we want to view ourselves than with reality.” (Dan Ariely)

Being hit with the harsh realization that we are not in control of our lives; that there is just so much we can take account for. I keep on thinking back about the different emotional stages during the prayer, about how I’ve absorbed my surrounding and how rattled I was by the surprising noises. All of a sudden, the Yom Kippur liturgy seemed to become real.

  • “Who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life and who before his time” (Unetanneh Tokef prayer)

While being deeply immersed in the holiday and the communal experience, tremendous darkness overcame us. There is this verse, of which part is recited in the daily morning service, that I just can’t get out of my head:

(יוצר אור ובורא חשך… (ישיעיה מ”ה, ז

“I form light and create darkness…” (Isaiah 45:7)

One of the great commentators, Ibn Ezra, comments on this phrase:

“It mentions what is adverse to another […] And causeth darkness. “Create” has here the same meaning as to “decree”; for darkness is nothing by itself, it is but the absence of light.”

The hours before the event were filled with so much light — we came to Halle to get out of the city, to have a meaningful experience, and to support a small community with our presence and energy.

We faced darkness. Someone declared it his mission to extinguish the light, by taking lives. The verse in Isaiah doesn’t stop there; it goes on, saying:

…עֹשֶׂ֥ה שָׁל֖וֹם וּב֣וֹרֵא רָ֑ע…

…I make peace, and create evil…

And reading on in Ibn Ezra’s commentary, he notes: “And cause evil. By evil war is meant as the opposite of peace, or the sickness under which man labours, as being at war with his constitution[…]”

All we wanted was to spend a peaceful Yom Kippur, filled with introspection and sense of community. Learning that innocent passersby got shot and killed, tore my heart apart. The gunman disrupted the peace of a whole people and a whole nation. And he is in clear war with his constitution.

No one should have to experience this fear. This fear for their lives. We as Jews should not second guess how safe it is to express our identity and really no one should. Wednesday’s attack showed that the repercussions go beyond the Jewish community. It can really hit everyone, whether Jewish or not, by being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

…אֲנִ֥י יי עֹשֶׂ֥ה כָל־אֵֽלֶּה׃”

…I, G!d, do all those things”

As someone who believes in G!d, this event did unsettle my belief system. And yes, I don’t know why it happened. The only way for me to find meaning in this horrific incident is to contribute my share in doing good and not let it extinguish the light.

About the Author
Naomi Henkel-Guembel grew up in Germany and made aliyah. A LiCBT-therapist by training, she is engaged in community development in Tel Aviv and Berlin. Naomi is currently a rabbinical student at Zacharias Frankel College.
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