While waiting for a much delayed flight for my journey to Israel, I learned of the terrorist attack at a Har Nof synagogue that took the lives of four men at prayer and later a brave policeman. I did not know at that time that Rabbi Moshe Twersky z”l was one of the dead, nor who the others were.
Most Jews living in Massachusetts who pay attention to these things are aware of Rabbi Twersky’s family and that he was the grandson of two acclaimed rabbis who are greatly respected. As a youngster, he attended Maimonides School in Brookline and went on to Harvard (his father was a founder of the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard) and then to Israel. I did not know him, but know people who did. One look at the photos of him and you can see through his smile and eyes that this was a kind man who cared much for his family, community and students at Torat Moshe. A son of Massachusetts who died in a way that cannot make sense to anyone, at the hands of terrorist while he was praying.
The long delay gave people an opportunity to chat. Discussion of the murders seemed muted, maybe due to the presence of children, or lack of information. Fifty-eight of the passengers were olim. People were somber on the flight for the most part, maybe a combination of how tired everyone was and the awareness of the terrible news from Jerusalem. There were at least a few of us from Massachusetts on the flight, some olim.
Morning prayers on the flight to Israel are always a moving experience; a reminder that location does not matter; what does matter is that the prayers be said. When we left the ground, the details of the murders were becoming available and it struck me that this heinous attack occurred when people might be the most physically vulnerable because of the contemplative nature of the Amidah. I later thought, as I remembered looking around the plane and seeing the collective power of morning prayer, that those two terrorists might have actually researched the most advantageous time for their attack.
Travel to Israel is always emotional but even more so for olim. I knew this but felt none of the anxiety or emotion that I thought would accompany me. What I thought about on the mostly sleepless flight was that the idea of constant immigration to Israel by Jews is abhorrent to those Arabs who want us gone. The acts of terror are meant to kill and to instill fear. The basic goals of terrorists are elimination and deterrence. There are no negotiations in the world that challenge those inhumane goals.
Five families are learning how to cope with these losses. The bravery of the Druze policeman in his effort to stop the slaughter is proof that there are those in Israel who are not Jewish who are committed to making this democracy work for all.
Obviously, part of the response is about security, intelligence gathering and prevention. That is the responsibility of government and a watchful citizenry. But what about us, and in saying that I do not mean just Israelis, but Jews. As support for Israel seesaws in the United States, I think about the two Druze police officers who died recently in service to Israel. These two men had no doubts about the value of this nation, but there are those who are Jewish who do. That disturbs me.
As I think about the people in our small group of fifty-eight olim earlier this week, the answer is us. It is found with the lovely family from Florida who are moving to Beit Shemesh with four kids; it is found with the sports promoter making aliyah with his wife, kids and cute dog (who behaved on the flight). It is found with the three young people who, all in their twenties, are optimistic and excited about their new lives in Tel Aviv. One was born in Israel when her parents made aliyah, but then brought their small child back to the United States. She seems to be finishing what they started. There is the retired couple moving to Jerusalem to be near their children; there’s another young family from New England who could not keep from smiling. There were other older people fulfilling a lifetime dream.
No one ever replaces those who have died; it is impossible to even believe that could be. Those of us making aliyah from Massachusetts are not a replacement for Rabbi Twersky; whether we know it or not, we are following in his worthy footsteps by choosing to live in Israel rather than in New England. With the Jewish population of Israel now over six million (approximately 75% of the total population), the answer to terror lies in our numbers. This small group from the United States and the small group that arrived from the Ukraine at the same time we did are part of the answer.
As a newbie Israeli citizen, maybe I am not the one to be telling anyone else to pack up and move. But, if there is a true dedication to the ideals of a Jewish nation based on democracy, then the answer can only come from us. Six million is not enough; it might be symbolic, but it is not enough. If one of the goals of terrorists is to instill fear as a deterrence, then the only challenge to that is increased numbers and resistance to fear. They, those who see all Jews as “settlers” and all babies as “future soldiers” or people at prayer as targets, cannot win if the return of Jews to Israel continues to occur and strengthen our nation. It only emboldens them when they hear of Jews elsewhere who take up their “cause”. The best case scenario is that Jews come home to Israel where we began. And if you cannot do that, then at least support this amazing little country. Tell those that revel in the death of Jews, like those who killed the four rabbis while in prayer, that they will not win and that we are not afraid. After all, you never know when you might want to come home.