• Family and friends attend the funeral of an Israeli soldier at Mt Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, 10 October 2023. | Photo: by Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90

Dancing into war

Yoel Shukkmann - 11 October 2023

Our Father, our King, have compassion upon us, and upon our infants and children.
Our Father, our King, do it for the sake of those who were slain for Your holy Name.
Our Father, our King, avenge the spilled blood of Your servants.
Our Father, our King, do it for Your sake, if not for ours.
Our Father, our King, do it for Your sake, and deliver us.

These words are part of Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, our King), the prayer we said several times during Yom Kippur. But when we said these words, none of us expected it to be so relevant just a few weeks later. All of Israel and the entire Jewish people are shouting these words worldwide today. One of the holiest days of the Jewish year – a day that was meant to bring joy and gladness – was turned into a day of the most heinous atrocities against the Jewish people since the Holocaust.

Dancing with the Torah
During the years of the Holocaust, terrible rumours reached Frankfurt’s Jewish community just before Simchat Torah. People heard that a terrible massacre had taken place. Some Jews were burned alive, while others were suffocated. The yeshivah boys of Frankfurt did not know the condition of their relatives and therefore cried terribly. They went to the rosh yeshiva (head of the yeshiva) Rabbi Moshe Schneider (1885-1954), and told him they could not dance on Simchat Torah.

He told them: “Hitler can kill us. But even Israel’s custom of dancing with Torah will not be replaced. We will sing and dance as usual.” Rabbi Schneider was strong, saying that “we will continue with G-d until the last dust covers us, and until they throw us into the fire.” Then he said: “With G-d’s help, a day will come when we will hear, and everyone will see, that it is impossible for a human being to understand G-d’s ways.”

Our experience this Simchat Torah, which fell on a Shabbat this year, was unfortunately very similar. While we were praying and rejoicing in G-d’s eternal gift to us – namely, the holy Torah – Hamas terrorists rampaged through the southern part of Israel. At least 1,000 people were brutally slaughtered, thousands were injured, and an as yet unknown number of people were taken hostage. But at the time, we knew nothing of this. Our prayers and dance were interrupted nine times by the air alert. As we do not use electronics on Shabbat and holidays, and only concentrate only on things related to Torah, we had no clear idea of what was going on. Only after Shabbat did we discover the extent of the still ongoing tragedy.

Israel’s fault?
Hamas has already threatened to execute hostages and broadcast their barbarity for the world to see. And still there are countless people who respond to the biggest cold-blooded slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust by demanding that we understand the underlying grievances of the poor ‘resistance fighters’. And that it actually is all Israel’s fault.

Armed killers hunting Jews from house to house. Girls and young women who were ‘violated’ en masse. Children kidnapped from their parents’ arms. Toddlers beaten and bullied by Palestinian children. Corpses desecrated, dragged and spat upon. This is the ‘resistance’ these people are demonstrating for. I don’t think I have ever seen a clearer example of good versus evil, and a clearer example of people taking one side or the other, as I have seen over the past few days.

Long hours
The truth is that it took me a very long time to write this article. I spent hours staring at a blank page. This is because I did not know how to eloquently write down all the feelings and emotions of the past few days. Because honestly, it is truly indescribable. My brother-in-law and his family had gone to visit an uncle in the South for Simchat Torah. The town they were in was invaded by terrorists. Friends of our uncle and aunt were killed; others were taken hostage in their own homes. We heard from my brother-in-law only hours after Shabbat. In the end, he turned out to be fine. Still, these long hours were filled with prayers and Psalms. However, we do have a neighbour whose parents have been missing since this massacre. At the time of writing, no one knows what happened to them.

Our Father, our King
Today, I said goodbye to a student heading off to war, where he will be held to an impossible standard by the world. By an international community who will sit comfortably and cosily on their couches at home and be allowed to hold their demonstrations in support of bloodthirsty killers, supported by cowardly politicians. This, while my 5-year-old son refuses to sleep in his own room and therefore currently sleeps behind me on the sofa in our living room – terrified of the air alert sirens and loud explosions. When we go to sleep, he will no doubt move to a bed in our bedroom. Let us pray this will all end soon.

Our Father, our King, annul the intentions of our enemies.
Our Father, our King, foil the plans of our foes.
Our Father, our King, wipe out every oppressor and adversary from against us.
Our Father, our King, close the mouths of our adversaries and accusers.
Our Father, our King, remove pestilence, sword, famine, captivity, and destruction from the members of Your covenant.

(Part of Avinu Malkeinu)

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