If you’ve never been to a synagogue like mine on a typical weekday morning, the best way to understand it is to imagine a train station.
At 6.10am sharp on Platform 2 (‘the kollel’), the first minyan for shacharit gets started. Affectionately known as the ‘Budapest Express’, after the Hungarian immigrant founders back in the 1960s, it is the minyan of choice for hard working people who need to get to work (or gym) early, or have a plane to catch, and finishes within 20 minutes on most days.
At a lazy 6.15am, the minyan on Platform 1 (the ‘main shul’) gets started. This is the synagogue’s ‘official’ first minyan. While those two groups are praying, over on Platform 3 (‘the lunchroom’), people are getting ready for the 6.45am, which is handy for professionals of all ages who actually want to have breakfast before they head to work, usually by public transport.
The 7.30am (Platform 1) has a a mix of students and slightly older people who may not need to get to work by 9.00am, or who have a short commute. Finally, the 8.30am (Platform 2) is the favourite of young men learning in the kollel, and the ‘aristocracy’ who sleep late. There’s something for everyone at our synagogue.
Throughout the weekday morning rush period, you will see people constantly coming and going, chatting, indulging in a shot of whisky to mark a yahrzeit or a simcha, and even praying here and there. You will see small groups of people sitting down for a short study group – either before or after their regular prayer service.
This is the daily buzz of Orthodox Jewish life.
It’s not quite as intense as some of the ‘minyan factories‘ in Zichron Moshe and Katamon, but it’s probably typical of any Orthodox synagogue serving a large and engaged community. From sleepy East St Kilda in Melbourne Australia and Har Nof in Jerusalem to thousands of communities all around the world.
It is communities like that that were shattered by the news that four synagogue regulars just like us were massacred in their taleisim and tefillin. It was all I could think about while praying this morning. No-one could ever have imagined that a couple of murderers would burst through the doors at 7.00am in the middle of the third minyan.
The inciters call the brutal murder of innocents in a house of worship “heroic” and say it is a “natural reaction to Zionist criminality”. What sort of culture rationalizes vicious murder as a “natural reaction” to anything?
While this incident gives us (and hopefully the world) insight into the nature of our enemies and the depth of their depravity, the question we must ask ourselves is: what is our “natural reaction” to this?
To be sure, it is grief and anger. It is despondency – at a ‘peace process’ that goes nowhere, at a world media who bizarrely reported this story as the death of two Palestinians, and at people who demand ‘disproportionate’ and unreasonable standards from Israel.
Indeed, the fifth victim of this attack was a Druze policeman. There are over a million non-Jewish Israeli citizens (Arab, Druze, etc) who participate in civil life and yet Israel is labelled an “apartheid state”!
Our “natural reaction” is spelled out clearly in this week’s Torah reading which tells of the blessing of Jacob and Esau, and where their father Isaac says the famous words: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Bereishit 27:22). The natural tools of the Jews are our voices – that of prayer and reason. While we unfortunately must use force to protect our citizens and our people from those who seek to harm us, our “natural response” to this awful attack is to remain resolute and diligent in the “natural habitat” of Jewish life – the synagogue.