Sermon After Synagogue Attack

Please remain standing for the Memorial Prayer.

“Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt-how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.” Why am I quoting this, a section from Ki Tetzei also read on Shabbat Zachor, today, when we read Toledot? I had prepared a different sermon comparing Jacob and Esau to people with different learning needs, which I will plan to give next year. However, I feel the need to address today the atrocious murder that occurred on Tuesday in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof.

As we unfortunately learned, two Palestinian cousins walked into a synagogue with a gun and meat cleavers, killing 4 rabbis: Rabbi Moshe Twersky (Isadore Twersky’s son and Joseph Soloveitchik’s grandson) z”l, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg z”l, Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky z”l, Rabbi Calman Levine z”l and Druze policeman Zidan Sayif z”l, all of blessed memory. The rabbis were davening their morning prayers, just as we have gathered today to pray to God. They were attacked at a moment of deep communication with the Almighty, a moment of vulnerability, just as Israel was attacked on Yom Kippur War over 40 years ago. Tallitot and Siddurim were bloodied; there were bullet holes in the synagogue wall and the loss of life, including that of the Head of the Yeshiva.

How many of you came to services today with the fear of a terrorist attack? How many of you have ever been afraid of going to a synagogue or Jewish event? While there are terror attacks against Jews in our country, we are fortunate that we can worship and live as we please without the daily fear of an attack.

When Steve Mann told be about the attack at Tuesday minyan, I immediately had two thoughts. First, the fact that I have been able to pray to God every morning at services without fear of an attack. I cannot imagine being in the middle of a prayer to God, in a state of great fervor and vulnerability, and all of a sudden being attacked by a terrorist. Secondly, I thought about a program I had attended called Heritage Retreats, of which the unstated goal was to make you baal teshuva and attend Yeshivat Machon Shlomo in Har Nof for one year. Machon Shlomo is down the street from Torat Moshe, the yeshiva where the shooting occurred. What would have been my reaction to hearing the sound of a gun or people being butchered to death?

I began my remarks with a reference to Amalek. Why? I certainly do not believe (as some claim) that all Arabs or all Muslims are Amalek. I have had enough experiences with moderate Islam not to believe this. What I do believe is that terrorists, who prey on innocent civilians, are exactly like Amalek. I learned from Rabbi Art Vernon of Congregation Shaaray Shalom in West Hempstead, who has a haredi (ultra-orthodox) daughter in Har Nof, that this site was deliberately planned by the terrorists. One of the two terrorists, Uday and Rassan Abu Jamal from East Jerusalem, worked next to the synagogue on Agassi Street. He knew that nearby there was another, modern Orthodox synagogue. However, the members of that synagogue, who have served in the Israeli army, all have guns, so the Abu Jamal cousins would have been shot dead upon entering. Therefore, the ultra-Orthodox synagogue was targeted, as its members do not serve in the Israeli army and do not have guns. This act, in my opinion, makes the brothers like Amalek: they went after innocent, defenseless Israelis with (in my opinion) the goal of killing as many as possible. As with Amalek, Israel cannot forget this action and must respond in kind until all terrorists, all traces of Amalek, are eliminated from the land.

You may have noticed 5 chairs on the Bimah, each of which has a picture of one of the deceased and an image from the murder. 4 of the chairs have a tallit (prayer shawl) and a siddur (prayerbook). This represents the 4 rabbis who were killed holding their siddurim in fervent prayers to God and wearing their bloody tallitot unto the moment of death. The 5th chair has an Israeli flag and represents the Druze police officer who was killed. Zidan Sayif gave his life to devotedly serving his homeland. He was a traffic cop called to the scene of a massacre, and we are grateful for what he did (and for what all the Israeli Druze do) to serve Israel.

I asked everyone to bring their favorite Siddur and wear their favorite Tallit and Kippah. My favorite Siddur is VaAni Tefilati, the Conservative movement’s Siddur in Israel. At one point it was the second best-selling book in all of Israel, indicating Israelis’ desire for a more liberal prayerbook by which to connect to God. The tallit that I am wearing contains images of Jerusalem to show solidarity with Israel today. The Kippah I am wearing, also with images of Jerusalem, was designed by Israeli artist Yair Emmanuel. All three of my ritual items come from or have connection to the Land of Israel. I would like to hear during Kiddush about your connections to your ritual items.

In the email I sent you I wrote about 4 things that each of us can do to show solidarity with Israel, one of which is being here today, another is joining me at the AIPAC Policy Conference to meet with our representatives and urge them about the importance of a strong US-Israel relationship, and a third is joining us on our congregational Israel trip next November. What I did not mention, which I want to touch on now is that everyone here 18 and older can vote in the elections for the upcoming World Zionist Congress. I will devote a sermon in January (when the elections open) to what is the World Zionist Congress, why it is important to vote and why I hope that everyone here will consider voting for MERCAZ, the Conservative movement’s party in the elections. However, I wanted to give a taste of it now because we often feel so powerless to do anything of influence in Israel yet in reality we do have power. We can vote in the elections to ensure that the World Zionist Congress has delegates who care about our issues regarding Israel.

The lessons I want to leave us with are the following. The terrorists are interested in targeting Jews-not just Zionists, not just Israelis but Jews. They will target the most vulnerable and defenseless members of our people. As in the case of Amalek, we cannot let them win. As Warren Kozak said at the Institute of Adult Jewish Studies this past Monday night, Israel needs to give a strong response to any terrorist action-and I believe Israel will. At the same time, we must stand strong and in solidarity with our brethren. The principle of kol yisrael arevin zeh bah zeh, all of Israel is responsible for one another, is no more true than it is today. Even if we do not relate to the haredi world, which tends to be insular and not Zionist, it is imperative that we stand with our ultra-Orthodox brethren-for the attack could have just as easily been on us. For the terrorists a Jew is a Jew is a Jew-so for us all Jews must stand strong and together. Finally, please join us for morning and evening minyan, committing to at least one morning or one night per week. I thank those who have made their commitments and ask others to do so for us to stand strong as a community, celebrating our constitutional principles of freedom of assembly and freedom of worship and helping those in our congregation who need a minyan to say Kaddish.

Cantor Black will now sing HaTikvah so we can show our solidarity with Israel. Please rise and face the Israeli flag.

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