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Since last Shabbat when the news of multiple attacks on Israel from the land, air and sea emerged, on the final days of celebration of the festival cycle, I, like Jews across the world, have been numbed and dumbed. Dumbed by the enormity of the multiple attacks on civilians, numbed by the sheer scale and evil of the killings. Joseph Conrad’s chilling words leap out to me from the heart of this unfathomable darkness:

“He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision – he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath: ‘The horror! The horror!”.

The cries, the horror of multiple babies slaughtered in their cribs, of young adults hunted down at a music festival, grandmothers shot in their homes, young and old beheaded, and bewildered young children and old people led into captivity. Images of the black soul of humanity at work; vignettes from a Jewish past of a millennia of persecution and suffering. Amalek attacked a helpless, traumatised new nation, shattered Churban souls being led into captivity, pogrom victims crying out in their despair, and of course shadows of the Shoah. Chaim Nachman Bialik’s haunted reaction to the Kishinev pogroms comes to mind:

“Get up and walk through the city of the massacre, and with your hand touch and lock your eyes on the cooled brain and clots of blood dried on tree trunks, rocks, and fences…”

I am weeping and choking up all the time, I am carrying this heavy stone within. I know this is shared across our community as we all have family or friends or at least know someone there. There are virtually no degrees of separation for Jewish people; we are just an extended boisterous and anxious family.

This is a collective trauma for the Jewish people across the world. It’s the worst of our fears, the stuff of our nightmares, our existential angst writ large. Our Pearl Harbour, our 9/11 magnified.

In times of acute crisis, we do what Jews have always done: we come together in solidarity, we pour out all the love and caring we can find in our fractured hearts, we give heaps of charity, we reach out to each other, we pray, and we rage against the dark callousness of our enemies. We resolve not to let them set our agenda for recovery and continuity. We reaffirm the audacity of our hope, we are the Hatikvah people, and we will not stop hoping. We remember the past and draw strength from the resilience of our people through the ages. We look around at the courage and compassion of our nation, the countless stories of breathtaking heroism that are coming out of this country, the fathers and strangers who drove into besieged settlements to save the innocent. And the endless and almost promiscuous acts of kindness and generosity that are virtually overwhelming Medinat Yisrael, our state of Israel!

We welcome the embrace of the many friends and admirers we have from President Biden, from our own Australian leaders down to our neighbours and people in the street joining together with us. Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower bedecked in blue and white lift us. I personally have received countless messages of support from Christian and Hindu leaders and friends, from the Hindu and Buddhist Councils of Australia, and a few courageous Muslims.

I wish those I have worked with for decades in the Muslim community could find a way of reaching out to us and show the moral courage to distinguish between the Islam of Hamas and their Islam. Surely, they would not think singing out Allahu Akbar when beheading babies is the God they pray to? Whose God is this that delights in the blood and torture of innocents? I wish they could find the moral clarity to differentiate between the genuine desire of Palestinians for recognition and the deep seated and twisted desire to rid Israel of all Jews from the river to the sea. I pray that most Palestinians and Muslims in Australia forcefully reject the blatant antisemitism we witnessed at the Sydney Opera House this week; that they wouldn’t tolerate for one minute calls to kill the Jews. Just as I won’t tolerate and do call out our own maniacal ideologues who call for the killing of Arabs – although fortunately very rarely act out these fanatical fantasies.

We deeply value the support of our non-Jewish compatriots. Please do continue to reach out as we are hurting and in deep shock. Please help us counter the disinformation and fear smear campaigns of Hamas and many Islamic agencies across Australia and the world. Truth is always among the first casualties of war. There are videos, for example on Tik Tok, claiming the Israelis are targeting and making their own fake videos to show Jews being attacked. Just watch CNN or any other reputable media source to see the unimaginable rampage on Kibbutz Beeri where hundreds of men, women and children were deliberately and horribly slaughtered. Hardened war time journalists were weeping at the unfathomable cruelty. I can’t get out of my mind so many of these traumatic accounts. Last night I just broke watching a sixteen-year-old describing how his mother threw herself on top of him to save his life. Both his parents were killed in front of him, and he survived despite the bullets that went through him and his mother.

I know you will see the images of citizens suffering in Gaza, but please remember that Hamas unleashed this war not only on Israel but on its own people, including the many who actually support their barbaric ideology. Hamas knew and deliberately calculated that their people would suffer these justifiable reprisals (to turn the world against Israel) when they began this terrible war. And even as I recall the words of our sages with reference to the savage Amalekites – if you are kind to the cruel you will land up being cruel to the kind – my heart breaks for all innocents caught up in what Wilfred Owen called the pity of war.

On Simchat Torah when we concluded reading the Torah we uttered the beautiful phrase, Chazak, Chazak VenitchazekBe strong, be strong and strengthen one another. We also shouted out our Shehecheyanu, a blessing for life. Tomorrow we renew our reading of the first book of the Bible, Berishit or Genesis, with a hope for a new beginning for our wounded and confused, tohu vavohu chaotic and confused (Genesis 1,2) world. Today and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow we loudly affirm that this little nation and this tiny people is about Life and the God of Life, and the eternity of its wise and enduring Torah. We (and our loving supporters) shall come through!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Ralph

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