It is just over a week since the Simchat Torah Massacre. I need not describe what happened. You have no doubt read about it elsewhere. What we need to understand clearly is that what Hamas did on Simchat Torah is what they would do to you and your family given the opportunity. The fight is your fight.
All of us would like to see Hamas eliminated in a short war with minimal casualties, the hostages safely returned to their families, and Israel to be hailed by the entire world for crushing a major terrorist organization. We never stop believing in or praying for miracles, but we are told not to rely on them. Achieving any one of those objectives will be extremely difficult. What is needed to attain one of them can undermine the chance of achieving another. The road ahead will be difficult and heart-breaking decisions will have to be made.
You have a role to play in the fight. Teshuva, Tefilla and Tzedaka can overcome the evil decree.
In my roles as an aide to various public officials and executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, I have organized many rallies and written many speeches in support of Israel. Over the years the attendance at those rallies shrank dramatically. Many in the Jewish community became complacent. The younger generation which did not live through the Holocaust, the formation of Israel and the Soviet Jewry movement did not feel the same sense of urgency their parents and grandparents did. Some of them even bought into the leftist propaganda which is especially pervasive on many college campuses that Israel is to blame for the oppression of the long-suffering Palestinians.
Last week was different. The Simchat Torah Massacre was a community wide wake up call. The outpouring of support and love for Israel and concern for the fate of Jews around the world is greater than it has been in over 30 years.
When the cameras and the press reported Jewish children being murdered in front of their parents and parents murdered in front of their children, Jewish young people gunned down at a concert, Jewish women raped and paraded as trophies through the streets of Gaza much of the world responded with sympathy.
But the reports of the atrocities are already being replaced with pictures of bombed out buildings and concern for the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. To be sure there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. It is caused by Hamas. But many will blame Israel for responding “disproportionally.” The real danger is not from those who justify Hamas. They will be clearly seen by people of good faith as the anti-Semites they are. Of more concern are the people, many of whom are well meaning but misguided, who deplored the Simchat Torah Massacre but who are now expressing concern for the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. They will call for ending the killing on both sides, equating Israel’s self-defense with Hamas’ murderous rampages.
The criticism of Israel is already becoming louder and more pervasive. As memories of the Simchat Torah Massacre fade, sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and pressure on Israel to end its offensive before the objectives have been achieved will mount. That is when we in Israel, will need the support of our brothers and sisters around the world more than ever. You are manning the battlelines in another front of the war.
There were 1,400 Jews murdered by Hamas in the Simchat Torah Massacre. That is more than the number of Jews who were murdered on the average day between January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and April 30, 1945, when he committed suicide. What Iran and Hamas seek is a second Holocaust. But this time is different. We now have a State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces which are fighting back and taking the battle to the other side. Yet we need help from another source. I received an email earlier today asking for volunteers because the IDF is requesting tens of thousands of tzitzit for its soldiers. It was heartening to see that the IDF realizes that for all its prowess, it is Hashem who protects our soldiers and will ultimately determine the outcome of the war.
Our tradition teaches us that teshuva, tefilla and tzedaka can overturn the evil decree.
We know that Teshuva means repentance, the process of drawing closer to G-d and making ourselves better people. It involves taking accountability for what we have done wrong in the past, making, and living up to a sincere commitment to do better in the future and reconciling with those we have hurt and/or hurt us. It is not a time to look for who is to blame for the polarization that endangered us. It is time for each one of us to look in the mirror and to ask where we have gone wrong and what we can do to make things right.
The Hebrew word teshuva has another meaning as well “an answer.” As the media and the colleges pontificate about “the plight of the Palestinians,” it is our responsibility to answer. We can afford to sit back and allow our enemies to win the public opinion debate. Our elected officials are moved by public opinion. As people become more sympathetic to the Palestinians the pressure on our elected officials to push “even handed” policies that actually benefit the Palestinians will increase.
Today, most people get their news through social media platforms like Twitter (X), Facebook, Tik Tok and You Tube. We need to engage on those platforms with a message that will resonate. People on social media have no time to read long articles like this one. Short messages of three sentences at most are what is needed.
We will never win over the anti-Semites who will always blame Israel. But we can gain support from people who are sincerely concerned about the very real suffering of the people of Gaza. We need to deliver the message that it is Hamas that is responsible for that suffering.
Short sentences like “Hamas uses its own people as human shields. Stop Hamas.” “Gaza is running out of water because Hamas uses pipes from the water supply system to build rockets to attack Israel.” “Israel’s occupation of Gaza ended in 2005. It is Hamas that has turned Gaza into an open-air prison.” “Hamas’ attacks on Israel kill Gazans.”
Another theme we should emphasize is that Hamas shares the same ideology as al-Qaeda and ISIS. Sentences like; “Hamas=Al Qaeda. Israel’s fight is our fight.” “Hamas Is ISIS.” “Today Hamas Is attacking Israel. Tomorrow it could be us. Stop Hamas Now.”
A third message should be that Hamas was responsible for the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust. Emphasize the stories of families whose loved ones have been killed or kidnapped using photos. Say how the Simchat Torah Massacre has impacted your life. Lines like “during the Holocaust the world stood by as my family was murdered. This time we fight back.” “There were more Jews murdered by Hamas on October 7 then on the average day of Nazi rule in Germany. Stop Hamas now” can be effective.
The Israel Defense Forces and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have active Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. Make good use of them. Share their posts on your social media platforms.
So far, our elected officials have been very strong in their support for Israel. This is no time for criticizing our friends. We need support for Israel to remain broad and bipartisan. Contact our elected officials. Thank them for their support and encourage them to remain steadfast in their commitment.
Israel’s soldiers and people are the ones fighting on the front lines. Your role is to have our backs by being the soldiers on the frontlines of the battle for public opinion.
This is a time to be storming the gates of heaven with our heartfelt prayers. Many shuls are saying Aveinu Malkenu and reciting extra Tehillim. If your shul is not yet saying the Misheberach for the IDF, it’s time to start.
If your inbox is anything like mine, you are being inundated with requests for donations. All of us want to help but you should do so with caution. There are people who take advantage of crisis situations to set up fake charity funds to collect money for themselves. Cybercriminals are sending out e-mails supporting Israel to get people to click on links that will give the hackers access to their cell phones, computers, credit cards and bank accounts. Be extremely careful in clicking on links in e-mails from people you don’t know personally. Donate only to organizations with proven track records that you are familiar with or through your shul or community organization.
Some of the organizations I have been supporting include:
Friends of the IDF (FIDF.org) – This is the most direct way to provide soldiers with equipment and accessories they need.
Leket (lekelt.org/en/) – They distribute food to families in need throughout Israel. They are now focused on providing food to the families most directly impacted by the Simchat Torah Massacre.
United Hatzalah (israelrescue.org) – 6,500 volunteers on motorcycles who will be ready to care for the wounded.
Magen David Adom (mdais.org) – Israel’s ambulance system and blood bank.
There are many efforts to collect clothing and equipment for soldiers. You should participate in these efforts through your shul or a trusted community organization.
Over the past year, I have found great fulfillment from my job as a guide for the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. It may be a long time before I lead another tour of the Kotel Tunnels. But I will close with the same words I use at the end of most of my tours. “The connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular goes back almost 4,000 years. We are not here because of 1948. It’s not about 1967. It’s not even about the Holocaust. It’s about 4,000 years of history. And it’s not just about our past it’s about our future. We have come back to the land where we became a nation, where our kings ruled, our prophets preached, and our sages taught to write the next great page in the history of the Jewish people.” Of one thing we can be certain. There will be a next great page. The one we will all write together. Because “Netzach Yisrael Lo Yishaker– the Eternal One of Israel will never be false.”