Washington-area synagogue-goers responded to the violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories last weekend with prayers, psalms and words from rabbis.
In the latest round of fighting, fueled by the Palestinian belief that Israel was changing the rules on the Temple Mount, 40 Israelis and Palestinians have died in a series of stabbings and shootings.
Like many congregations across the country, Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac and Congregation Beth Emeth in Herndon heeded the call of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations for a Sabbath of Solidarity with Israel.
With B’nai Tzedek Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt in Israel for the World Zionist Congress, Cantor Marshall Kapell led the congregation.
“It’s definitely on everybody’s mind,” he said of the fighting, an amalgam of individual attacks by Palestinians wielding knives and guns and protective gunfire by Israeli police and soldiers.
Rabbi Michelle Goldsmith of Beth Emeth has spoken out about the violence for several weeks in her sermons. Both congregations read a prayer written by Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. It asks “Compassionate God” … “not to wipe out haters but to banish hatred,” and to let calm return to Jerusalem and Israel.
On Sunday, area Orthodox congregations gathered at Young Israel Shomrei Emunah in Kemp Mill, where participants prayed the afternoon and evening services and recited psalms, said Rabbi Brahm Weinberg of Kemp Mill Synagogue, one of the rabbis who spoke at the event.
“We were gathering and affirming our connection to the land of Israel, the State of Israel,” Weinberg said.
“Praying was the essential reason for the gathering. Strength in numbers is greater than any of our prayers alone.”
Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Synagogue in Bethesda would have focused on the violence even without a call for a Sabbath of Solidarity by the President’s Conference, said Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb.
“I am all for solidarity. It is clearly needed now,” he said, adding, “Sometimes solidarity is used in place of conformity for a particular perspective.”
During Shabbat services at Adat Shalom, Yitzchak Sokoloff, director of Keshet Israel Tours, spoke on “The view from Israel — and why you should visit,” Dobb said. The congregation sang “Bashanah Haba’ah” “as an affirmation of home amid the violence, and offered the Prayer for the State of Israel.”
Dobb said the violence “is on people’s minds. I’ve raised it from the bima for a number of weeks.”
After Shabbat, Dobb flew to Israel to attend the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem.
At Tikvat Israel Congregation’s solidary gathering for Israel on Monday, members read aloud the biographies of those murdered and displayed their photographs, according to Rabbi Benjamin Shull.
And the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington issued a statement in which it condemned “the deadly spree of terrorist attacks in Israel and the seeming apathy of the global community.”
The JCRC, which is the public affairs arm of Washington’s organized Jewish community, was registering its “cumulative outrage” at the attacks and the pro forma statements against violence coming from world leaders, according to Executive Director Ron Halber.
The JCRC said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “continues to support and even incite terrorism by calling for the killing of Israelis and Jews.”
Halber referred to a Sept. 16 speech in Ramallah in which Abbas said that “every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every shahid [martyr] will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God.”
Abbas also declared, “They have no right to desecrate the mosque with their dirty feet,” an apparent reference to Jews. Halber said the use of “dirty feet” in effect compares Jews to animals and dehumanizes them.
Israel has steadfastly denied any attempt to affect the status quo on the Temple Mount, which proscribes prayer by non-Muslim groups.
In College Park, about 300 students gathered on Monday night on the University of Maryland’s main quad to commemorate the victims of terror. The vigil was organized by groups affiliated with Maryland Hillel.
Holding tea lights, they observed a moment of silence for the dead and said prayers for the injured, according to Maiya Chard-Yaron, Maryland Hillel’s assistant director.
At Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac, Rabbi Nissan Antine has been responding to the violence for several weeks. “We recite tehillim [psalms] after every service,” he said.
He gave a sermon after Naama and Eitam Henkin were gunned down in front of their children in the West Bank. It was then Sukkot, and Antine was struggling with the question of “How can we celebrate the joy of Sukkot in the face of these deaths?”
He began by asking why Jews say the Shehecheyanu prayer, which expresses thanks for “reaching this moment” on Israel’s Independence Day.
“There is still war, terror, poverty and so many other problems,” he said. So how can we say Shehecheyanu if the joy is not complete?”
For his answer, Antine quoted Rabbi Yehuda Amital, who founded a yeshiva in the West Bank: “We do not only say Shehecheyanu when the joy is complete. If we only said Shehecheyanu when the joy is 100 percent complete, then we would never say Shehecheyanu.” n
WJW Political Writer Melissa Apter and Daniel Schere, a reporter at WJW’s sister publication, Baltimore Jewish Times, contributed to this article.