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Thursday, 20 November 2014

‘Who by Sword and Who by Beast’?

There are days when even the best wordsmiths are reluctant to write.

“Really”, confessed David Horovitz soon after the slaughter at the Bnai Torah Yeshiva Synagogue in  Har Nof, Jerusalem, “the last thing any of us wants to do on a day like this is write. All we want to do is grieve  …. We want to mourn for the families, the worlds torn apart”.

Zidan.SaifBut the editor of a large, international news site like The Times of Israel could not indulge  his  dysgraphia for long and went on to craft 863 words of quietly agonised thought that were still being read  by scores of people 24 hours later, even as his colleagues described the funeral of Druze traffic policeman, Zidan Saif  and the throngs of ultra-Orthodox mourners who travelled to the northern town of Yanuh-Jat to pay him homage.

The ceremony was also attended by Israel’s new president, Reuven Rivlin. He believes, contrary to other public figures, that the current violence marks the start of a third intifada (Arab uprising) with a religious dimension. However, he insisted during a television interview:

“We have no dispute with Islam, we did not have, we will not have, and today, too, we don’t have … We need to make it clear to everyone”.

Meanwhile, the death of Saif, an engaging son, husband, father and now national hero will indisputably strengthen the existing bonds of friendship between Israel’s Jewish and Druze communities.

No wonder Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned Saif’s father, Sheikh Nuhad Seif, saying: "Your son's brave action prevented many casualties. On behalf of the citizens of Israel, I would like to express condolences over his falling in the line of duty”. 

He then wrote separately to the dead man’s wife, Rinal, telling her that she and Zidan had “established a splendid Israeli family … go forward, develop and always contribute to society and the state”.

But what a shame that there are already divisions as how best to prevent something similar happening again. Even – and especially – the state’s two chief rabbis are arguing as to whether security should be enhanced at synagogues.

Ashkenazi Chief  Rabbi, David Lau said: “We cannot allow for the spectacle we see overseas -- armed guards in every synagogue -- to happen here, in our country”.

But his Sephardi counterpart, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef argued: "Until such time as the situation changes, we cannot pray in synagogues that do not have guards”.

Rarely do I agree with opinions emanating from any Orthodox source. But I also suggest that all Israeli synagogues, no matter their location or size, should have some form of security. Less wealthy communities could organise volunteer rotas, where congregants take turns to man a locked door to ensure no unwanted intruders enter during services. It’s a precaution most people would surely view as plain common-sense.

That aside, the way and the speed with which the tightly-knit, inordinately strict community began to recover from the massacre, says as much about local culture as it does of  those who form the community.

In the same time-frame that I mentioned above,  the synagogue building must have been cleansed, because people  soon returned there to pray and study while a young couple used it to celebrate the brit mila – Jewish circumcision – of their infant son. It was vital, they said,  that the boy’s covenant with Jewish tradition be bound as soon as possible.

How different from the U.K., where too many untimely deaths are mourned with drifting, decaying piles of  bouquets, cuddly toys and in the recent case of Jewish-born actress Lynda Bellingham – a church funeral with a fireworks finale!

I’ve often observed that events happen very fast in Israel and most  do not last for long. Wars are usually brief and so  this past summer’s 50-day IDF campaign, Operation Protective Edge seemed to last forever.

But what never goes away is the endless round of arguments, counter-claims and the sympathy that too many in the outside world have for mindless terrorism. I am sure they will laugh like drains at this animated clip - Hamas’s new hit song in Hebrew - Zionist, You Are About To Be Killed by a Car – a jolly homage to the men who have killed and maimed one baby and several adults in what is currently described as ‘the car intifada’.


But I’m not supposed to be bitter. Better that I imitate the attitude of the  widows and families of those butchered at the Kehillat Bnai Torah Yeshiva in  Har Nof.

They won’t use their computers again until the conclusion of this Sabbath day, but they have asked that it be “dedicated to 'ahavat chinam' – ‘love for no good reason’.

So I conclude with their letter of ‘love’- and another video clip. This  features the Manchester-born Portnoy Brothers, Sruli and Mendy, now in Jerusalem, singing Learn to Love the Ones Who Love You Less.

A very difficult lesson indeed.


“With broken hearts, drenched in tears shed over the spilt blood of holy men – the heads of our families.

“We call on our brethren wherever they are – let us come together so that we may merit mercy from Heaven, and let’s accept upon ourselves to increase love and comradery, between each individual and each community.

“We ask that every person accept upon himself …. to set aside the day of Shabbat as a day of unconditional love, a day during which we will refrain from words of disagreement and division, from words of gossip and slander.

“May this serve to elevate the souls of our husbands and fathers who were slaughtered while sanctifying God’s name.

“God will look down from the heavens, see our suffering, wipe away our tears and put an end to our tribulations.

“May we merit seeing the coming of our Messiah speedily in our days. Amen.

“Signed with a torn heart.

Mrs Chaya Levin and family
Mrs Bryna Goldberg and family
Mrs Yaacova Kupensky and family
Mrs Bashy Twersky and family”

*(The title of this post is drawn from the Unetanah Tokef prayer, read during Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement services).

© Natalie Wood (22 November 2014)

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