A Surreal Simchat Torah

As my son-in-law walked through the door on Simchat Torah morning, the look on his face told me that the sirens, which had woken us up several times, had definitely not been false alarms.

He had just retuned from the ‘neitz’ (sunrise) minyan, in their Jerusalem suburb where we were spending the chag. The small minyan includes a member of the Knesset who is always accompanied by his bodyguard. The Knesset member had been taken outside in the middle of the tefillah, his face ashen. He retuned and told them what he was allowed to share.

We are religious so we hadn’t turned on our phones/radio/television/computer, etc. and had no idea what was happening. No one left in the house was involved in the army or security services. Had they been, they would by then have connected themselves to the outside world because ‘pikuach nefesh’ (saving a life) overrides the laws of Shabbat and chag.

My son in law and grandson are both volunteers with MDA/Hatzalah and ZAKA so they immediately turned on their two-way radios. He took his car keys and drove his car out of the underground car park and up to the road to make any necessary travel quicker.

He was very careful with the information he gave out. Yes there was a war, mostly in the south where sadly it had been many time over the last years.

He looked at us adults and with a pained expression on his face said ”It’s bad…very bad.”

“But it’s Simchat Torah and there is nothing you can do physically in Jerusalem at the moment to help the people down south… the most important thing we can do, as always, is pray and say Tehilim (psalms).

Some of the children went to the shul which is next door to the apartment – the rest of us started saying Tehilim.

Sisu ve’simchu ba’Simchat Torah” the singing and dancing was loud and clear in the shul next door as most of the kehilla still had no idea what had happened.

“Anyone who can, should go and donate blood at the Magen David Adam headquarters” rang out the radio on the sideboard.

The juxtaposition of the two worlds was painful.

Gradually the shuls in the neighborhood started emptying as the word spread and the line inside and outside the MDA headquarters grew until it snaked along the neighborhood streets.

“All ambulance drivers are requested to report to MDA and pick up an ambulance “

Ambulance drivers dropped their cars off ‘all over everywhere’ as they picked up ambulances and drove them down south.

Our son was called  up in the afternoon. His job, as he is now too old for active service, is organizing and supplying equipment to soldiers.

As this surreal day drew to its close my son-in-law gathered his children.

“Soon we will make havdalah and then you will find out what had happened today. Don’t waste your time on political/military discussions, what we should do to Hamas/why didn’t the army do this or that. Our job as religious Jews is to look inwards at ourselves. We must ask ourselves why is Hashem doing this to us. How can we improve ourselves, be better people and we must always pray for the safety of everyone fighting for us and the people in the south who have suffered so much today.”

He picked up the candle, wine and besamim (spice box) and started to make Havdallah.