On October 7th the terror group Hamas unleashed the most heinous terror attack on Israel in their State’s 75 year history, and possibly the most vile, and evil and ferocious attack in world history. The carnage, wanton slaughter, rapeings, beheadings, burning of babies, capped off with the hostage taking of men elderly women and children, even infants, shocked a nation and a world. They forced parents to watch them butcher their children and vice versa even tying a Arab Druze Emergency response professional to a pole while they murdered innocents forcing him to watch (according to at least one report).
This attack was allegedly in response to the “occupation” of Gaza. (Israel hasn’t been in Gaza since 2005 since they unilaterally withdrew and forcibly relocated some 10,000 Jews living in Gaza. In 2007, Gaza was overrun by Hamas who has held the people there hostage to their terror tactics and their version of Islamic law, forbidding free expression, unless it served the Hamas terror cause essentially hijacking the Gaza strip for 15 years.) This terror attack was perpetrated, though there was zero strategic gain, only the baldfaced Jew hatred that is actually in Hamas’ charter only now it was exposed in the most naked way since the Holocaust.
Tragically, their meticulous planning caught Israel unaware and unprepared, and they managed to butcher 1300 Israelis as of last count injuring and maiming thousands more, kidnapping 200 plus people, and throwing an entire country into terror and disarray.
In the wake of these events, Jewish organizations like mine – Chabad in Peabody, MA – have been working overtime to be helpful and productive to support our family and homeland in Israel.
To that end, when we arranged an impromptu Prayer Circle for Israel this past week, we imagined ten or fifteen people would come to pray with us. After all, it wasn’t a lecture with a renowned speaker or rally to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel; it was “just” a prayer circle.
The stated goal was to assemble and read Psalms together, give coins to charity and encourage attendees to take on a new Mitzva pledge. So when the room filled up to capacity, it was unexpected. Even more unexpected was the dynamic makeup of the participants.
Of course there were a sprinkling of Israelis who needed to connect and regulars who wanted to do “something” for Israel, but the majority in attendance were folks we hadn’t seen in synagogue in years. Families whose children had graduated Hebrew School a decade ago and had for all intents and purposes had moved far away from us religiously. Jews who’d married out of the faith were in attendance, Jews without temple affiliations were in attendance, quite simply Jews who until now feel that they are forgotten and have no place they could call home religiously.
Since this war (or police action as I prefer to call it) broke out in response to the barbaric terror events that took place in Israel, every Jew has been shaken. We’ve all felt hatred and fear before but there is something different about what took place and the reaction we are all having to it.
One person whom we are close to has not stopped crying, as a child of Holocaust survivors, her greatest fear has always been of another Holocaust. To her, this is the realization of that nightmare. But there is something deeper than that going on over here.
There is more to this than antisemitism and personal safety. We’ve dealt with that before. Every time there is an incident in Israel, economic collapse, or even a pandemic, the Jews are scapegoated, college campuses erupt in hatred of Jews, all seeking to lay blame somewhere. And sadly the Jews have always been the convenient target.
There is something about the raw hatred that was displayed, the brutal, sadistic rage and pleasure in defiling innocent people solely for the fact that they are Jewish that has stunned a world and has awakened something latent within Jews and people in America and across the the Western world.
The “Pintele Yid” (the essential spark of Jewish identification that every Jewish soul has though for some it is more active and visible than others) has been touched in a way I and many far more senior than me have ever seen. Jews who had essentially shut off and powered down their Jewish soul are finding that they need to reboot and connect Jewishly and they cannot explain why.
Most unaffiliated Jews know that if and when they need, there is a house of spirituality and a clergy person that they can call their own and reach out to on demand when the circumstances call for it.
The deepest of assimilations cannot protect you from your core identity as a Jew and that has “disconnected” Jews feeling like they have nowhere to turn.
Of those massacred in Israel, many were left-leaning, peace loving, pro-Palestinian activists. Free loving, young and and old Israelis who dedicated their lives to the Palestinian cause, people who felt sour about Israel and wanted better the lives of their neighbors. But that didn’t matter a darn to the bloodthirsty antisemites who came to blot out the Jews.
American Jews who thought they had successfully deplaned from their Jewish heritage and had assimilated are realizing that the Pinteleh Yid is still very much alive and want to, nay need to connect in a spiritual way.
These are the folks that showed up for that prayer circle. Folks who don’t show up on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur — not even “two days a year Jews,” but Jews nonetheless.
My response to them: You are not homeless, in fact you never were. You may have left the warm embracing home of G-d’s synagogues but they never left you. They never forgot you and their doors are wide open to you as they always have been.
Thank you for rising above your fear of rejection, for risking your comfort and coming out to connect with fellow Jews in the ancient way of prayer and good deeds and connect with G-d, you made the right choice because your place has always been here waiting for you.
Welcome home (even though you never left).