Nathan Alfred

Shabbat shalom – a wish for a peaceful sabbath

Last Saturday morning I woke up expecting to go to synagogue – to celebrate Shemini Atzeret and the end of the Jewish holiday season. I never made it. Instead I spent the day glued to the news as detail after horrific detail emerged about the Hamas attack and massacre in the south of Israel.
Almost a week has passed since then and, despite everything, I want to share a list of things for which I am grateful.
I am grateful to my wife, who might have berated me this afternoon for frying the aubergine when she wanted them baked, but who cleaned out and fixed up our underground shelter so when the rockets are fired and the siren blares, we are able to run downstairs and sit in relative comfort. As I like to joke, there’s no one I’d rather be in a fight with.
I am grateful for our son, who has been planning how to celebrate his fifth birthday with his friends at the end of the month. With schools and kindergartens now closed, these are intense days of parenting. We feel how the situation affects him, even as we try to shield and protect him in every way we can.
I am grateful for everyone who helped me get home last weekend. I understand those who have left Israel – we also consider it – but Jerusalem is our home.
I am grateful for everyone who has written to see how we are doing, offering thoughts and prayers from around the world. I really appreciate you all and I try to reply as quickly as I can, so you don’t worry too much. Until now we are “fine”. That four-letter word that really means we are simply sad, shocked, anxious, fearful, overwhelmed, devastated, much like everyone else.
I am grateful for how quickly Israeli society has come together, and for its resilience. Half of us – maybe more now – have little faith in our current government. There will be a reckoning but now is not the time.
I am grateful for the glimpses of an Israel where Jews and Arabs want to live together in peace. Like the whatsapp groups from our children’s oncology ward in Haifa where it’s Arab families who are offering their homes for displaced Jewish families from the south. There is an Israel here in which we can live together in peace.
I am grateful for electricity and water. The atrocities of last Saturday are despicable beyond words. So many families are grieving murdered relatives. Still more are in limbo, awaiting news of kidnapped relatives. It’s callous, debauched and barbaric. Yet we are not blind to the innocent people in Gaza, whose lives are also destroyed by Hamas.
I am grateful for Shabbat, when Jewish law tells us to take a break from our state of mourning.
I am grateful that last Shabbat was not our last, as it was for too many. Tonight we celebrated Shabbat at home with friends – two other young families. We lit an extra candle, a memorial candle – without explanation, so as not to scare the children.
And I am grateful that my son likes counting and immediately asked me the awkward question: “Abba, why do we have three candles this Shabbat?” My reply: two are for Shabbat and the third is for all the people we are thinking about this Shabbat.
I held my son tightly as I blessed him tonight. It’s a traditional blessing for children that I repeat over him every Friday night, one that ends with the word “shalom” – peace. And the simple greeting: “Shabbat shalom” has never felt more heartbreaking or appropriate.
So shabbat shalom – a wish both for Israel and for everywhere in the world – wishing you all a shabbat shalom – a peaceful sabbath.
About the Author
Rabbi Alfred grew up in London and read Classics at King's College, Cambridge. After time spent in Budapest playing chess, he studied rabbinics in London and Jerusalem, receiving semicha in 2008. He led communities in Europe (Belgium and Luxembourg) and in Asia (Singapore), and now lives with his family in Jerusalem. Most recently he was the spiritual leader of the Free Synagogue of Flushing, the oldest reform shul in Queens, New York.
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