Pittsburgh: A Response

Tomorrow, it will be four weeks since the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; four weeks since the incident termed by The Washington Post as “the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history”. That is, it is four Shabbatot since the death of eleven innocent people, murdered in the middle of their prayer, purely because they were Jewish.

A lot can happen in four weeks.

Inspired by the range of powerful reactions to the shooting that we saw on social media, we decided to collect some responses to the tragedy from bogrim across the movement, initially planning on publishing them here straight away. However, a lot can happen in four weeks. We decided to delay sharing these responses for two reasons: First, immediate responses to tragedy often contain a lot of raw emotion, something we felt it was important to preserve, sharing these thoughts not only in the initial aftermath, but also taking the time to reflect on them once the dust has settled. Second, the week following the shooting saw a movement in Jewish communities across the world, termed #ShowUpForShabbat. The idea was for people to make an extra effort to go to shul on the Shabbat after the shooting – coming together within our communities to remember those who were killed, and to show that these acts of hate will not deter us from being Jewish; that we refuse to be scared to practice our religion, both publicly and with pride. We felt a message as important as this should not be shared in the week following the tragedy and then never mentioned again; if something positive can come out of something so terrible, we wanted to preserve and prolong that thing for as long as possible. So, four weeks on, here is a collection of bogrim’s initial responses to the Pittsburgh shooting. Reflect, show up, remember.

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To finish a Shabbat with the devastating news of 11 Jews brutally murdered in Pittsburgh was a tragedy. It’s scary to think that we, a liberal and progressive society, can still house those who hate their neighbours on account of their race, religion, skin-colour, financial status, gender or sexuality. This was a horrific hate crime and we can only hope that a day will come when the view that ‘all Jews must die’ will be wiped from the earth. Antisemitism has been ignored and tolerated for too long. It’s time for that to change.

Daniel Ellis, Shevet Avichai

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As Shabbat ended here in England, we were shocked and overwhelmed by the news of the massacre in the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. While in certain aspects, the tragedy is part of a larger story of how human beings can hate “others” they don’t know, so deeply that they desire to murder them, this is also a part of the Jewish story, spanning the generations.

A story of Jews being killed while gathering to pray could well have been lifted out of a story from the time of the Holocaust 75 years ago, or from the destruction of the Jewish communities in France and Germany during the First Crusade, or from a whole list of other attacks. Just last night, I was learning about the death of Rabbi Yehuda Ben Baba, one of the Ten Martyrs, killed by the Romans for defying their decree that “semicha” (rabbinic ordination), was no longer to be practiced (Sanhedrin 14a).

What was particularly shocking was that this took place in America, a country that has likely been the safest and most welcoming for Jews in exile in our entire history.
I said that it just part of our story, because there is so much more: our ability to band together and pray for each other, to care deeply despite the gaps of distance, language and denomination. To learn and create, to work and improve this world. Just as Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava, upon being discovered by the Romans, ensured that those who he’d ordained would be able to escape and continue to teach our traditions, so too we must continue to act.

If you are wondering what you can do, please learn and pray (and give charity, do good deeds etc.) for those still in need of a recovery from the attack.

There is so much more to be done. Shira and I are around if you need to speak to someone.

Rav Aharon Herskovitz, Rav Shaliach

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I don’t really know how to say anything about this right now, but I think there’s a lot to be said for trying to put into words that which leaves you speechless.

I just saw a video of Oxford Jewish Society holding a vigil for all those who were killed in the mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday. These are my friends, my former JSoc colleagues, and a hundred other people I have never met, coming together in collective loss; coming together to mourn and remember those whose lives were taken last Shabbat. I am proud of my friends for organising this event, for sharing their words, thoughts and prayers. But it is more than that – I am humbled. Humbled by the sheer number of people who turned up in support, humbled by the number of posts and comments I have seen online in the last few days. Because this has hit us all. The Jewish community is not one that is tied together by a shared location, but rather by a shared belief, a shared connection, a shared history. That is why when one arm is hit, half way across the world, the ripples of pain are felt throughout the body. We are all hurting.

Yes, I believe in the power of prayer. But this vigil, and all the others like it happening across the world, stand for so much more than that. This is the power of people coming together, not to make political points about religion or gun laws or anything else, but simply to be together. Yes to pray, but also to sing, to speak, to share each others’ pain and feel each others’ support.

To my Jewish friends, thank you for sharing your thoughts over the last few days; it means a lot to know we’re coming together in this time. To my friends who aren’t Jewish, thank you for showing your support; it means a lot to know we’re not in this alone.

Jemma Silvert, Shevet Eitan

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These etchings were collated by Eliot Cohen as part of a memorial booklet he compiled for the victims of the massacre. The following is an excerpt from his introduction to the booklet:

Memorials can be moments of consideration, breaches filled with agony, meditative spaces in which to dwell shocked, silent, angry.

Sometimes we are reassured by the warm presence of a fellow human body, standing by us in solidarity. Sometimes we are calmed by the deep resonances of the past calling out from afar with words that are as familiar as they are foreign. Sometimes we are moved by etchings of a hand that trembled as ours tremble, by images of a terror long since passed yet just as fearful as those pictures that we see today.

Solidarity is to be found not just in the declarations of those that are with us, but in the remnants of a sorrow, a hope, and a conviction that have been preserved over time.

In this booklet, our thoughts for the tragedy that occurred in Pittsburgh can be intertwined with the cries, prayers and visions of our received tradition from across centuries.

Psalms of the ancient Israelites sit with mournful laments uttered each year by Ashkenazi and Sefardi communities, and the timeless prayer to a compassionate God is encased in woodcuts from a generation destroyed in the flagrant outpour of hate, suspicion and violence.

May we be comforted by the living traces of the past, and may our pain and despair be uplifted by a thirst for an abundant, fragile life. 

Eliot Cohen, Shevet Lahava

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טוֹב לָלֶכֶת אֶל בֵּית אֵבֶל מִלֶּכֶת אֶל בֵּית מִשְׁתֶּה בַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא סוֹף כָּל הָאָדָם וְהַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל לִבּוֹ

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of
feasting, for that is the end of every man, and the living shall take
it to their heart.


Joyce Fienberg, 75

Richard Gottfried, 65

Rose Mallinger, 97

Jerry Rabinowitz, 66

Cecil Rosenthal, 59

David Rosenthal, 54

Bernice Simon, 84

Sylvan Simon, 86

Daniel Stein, 71

Melvin Wax, 88

Irving Younger, 69

May their memory be a blessing

יהיה זכרם לברכה

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Bnei Akiva Across the Generations

Debbie Harris, Hachshara 5778

On May 17th we met with many generations of BAUK, and this made me become aware of the metamorphosis of the youth movement.

Edna and her husband, who have been in Israel for over 50 years, were so ideology driven. They would take extremely dangerous measures by sending ammunition to help Israel from London – in the only way they could from thousands of miles away. Continue reading

It’s Time to Stand Together

By Harry Salter, Rosh Nivchar 5778

Over the past week, I was privileged to be in Israel for Yom Yerushalyim for the third year running. From davening at the Kotel with thousands of people, to dancing through the streets of Yerushalyim, proudly waving the Israeli flag and finally ending up at the Kotel for mass celebrations.

The sense of togetherness showed the true meaning of “ומי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ” “And who is like Your people Israel, a unique nation on earth” (Divrei HaYamim 1:17).

For the past six-weeks, a campaign organised by Hamas was launched on the Gaza border, infiltrating into our land. During this protest, pictures emerged of these rioters with Swastikas on flag poles, protesters throwing stones and Molotov Cocktails at the IDF, burning tires and dispatching fire kites towards Israeli fields. This was not a campaign for freedom, this was a demonstration to destroy Israel.

On Monday 14th May, the United States opened their embassy in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Exactly 70 years since President Harry Truman recognised the State of Israel a historic moment occurred in Jerusalem. The Leader of the Free World supported Israel and recognised our eternal and everlasting capital. But whilst dignitaries were celebrating this momentous and happy occasion, protesters were again breaking down the fence into Israel, armed with Molotov cocktails, guns, stones and knives.

Do not be fooled by people who say that the embassy move was the reason for the protests. The protests had been organised and started six-weeks previously by Hamas.

Hamas stated that the goal of the protests was to breach the border fence and cross into Israel. Prior to and during these protests, Israel repeatedly warned of consequences to anyone who crossed the border, with the primary focus on protecting their citizens. Israel has the right to protect their people, just as every other nation does. Israel has the right and the obligation to stop terrorists, who put the lives of her citizens at risk, from entering the country.

If Israel would have allowed Hamas to breach the border successfully, what do you think would have happened next?

On Tuesday, I decided to watch the Urgent Question tabled in the House of Commons. I felt disgusted by the lies spewed by politicians, saying these protesters were “unarmed and peaceful.” I found myself screaming at the TV after every question and statement. How can the representative body of the British public blatantly lie and get away with it?

It was then when I saw the statement from the Board of Deputies, supporting the actions taken by the Israeli Defence Force, calling for Hamas to offer a better future to the people of Gaza and turn to a path of peace. I was delighted by this statement, a real support for the actions taken by the Israeli government. But what happened next was the turning point for me, sending me into a state of despair and dismay.

I was told to watch a video, distributed by the Israel Advocacy Movement, of Jewish people joining outside Parliament to say Kaddish for terrorists of Hamas. I watched in disbelief and amazement as these people read the names of each person killed, and finally recited Kaddish.

Not only are they wrongly using the Kaddish prayer, they are misusing it as well. Throughout the prayer of Kaddish, we magnify and sanctify G-d’s name. This prayer should not be used for terrorists who wish to kill, destroy and annihilate Jews in their home. At the time of writing, 50 of the 60 who were killed were active members of the terrorist group Hamas, making that 83% of those who were killed part of a terrorist group.

83% of the 60 people were active members of the terrorist group. In a crowd of 40,000 people, this shows that these strikes were calculated and controlled. I deplore any loss of innocent human life and pray for all civilians’ safety and wellbeing.

In a time when the truth is no longer the truth, the British Religious Zionist community must stand up publicly and support Israel and it’s right to protect their land. We must be proud of the State of Israel and continue to defend it when it has to defend itself. Our brave soldiers, men and women, who put their lives at risk on the borders should be applauded and supported in their efforts to stop these terrorists. We must come together, not to say Kaddish for terrorists and not to criticise Israel for defending its borders, but in support of Israel.

It is easy to stand against Israel, just as any democratic state can be called out when they do wrong. But Israel is at war. And it needs our support.

May we continue to be the unique nation who stand united in our support for Israel.

Silence and Tragedy: A communal response

By Eli Gaventa, Chinuch Worker 5778

The following is written in a personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect official Bnei Akiva positions.

A few weeks ago we read the story of the demise of Nadav and Avihu, Aharon’s sons, at the hands of God. The response of Aharon in that moment of tremendous grief and personal loss was to remain silent. In the face of personal tragedy sometimes the only appropriate response is silence and reflection, each one of us looking after ourselves and taking the time to process what our next steps should be. This is not the case however when facing communal suffering or tragedy. When the suffering at hand is one that faces more than just a single individual we have a markedly different reaction.

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The Coffizz/Coffix Conundrum

By Rafi Kleiman
So far, 5778 has been an eventful year where major contemporary issues hitting Israeli society have come to the forefront. We’re talking the African migrant crisis. We’re talking the ongoing pricing-out of Israelis from affordable housing . However, none of the above have anything close to the discussion tearing apart families, friends, and many, many, many WhatsApp groups…
Yes, you’ve guessed it. It’s the Coffix/Coffizz Machloket!

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On March of the Living and Holocaust Education

By Kobi Weiner

I have just returned from March of the Living 2018, spending a week in Poland learning about the Holocaust, before participating in the March from Auschwitz I to Auschwitz II – Birkenau. We spent time learning about the incredible Jewish life that existed in Poland for 1000 years, and saw how it came to a tragic and murderous end, by visiting the sites where it happened and hearing testimony from survivors. We were also privileged to meet members of the revived and energetic Jewish community that exists in Krakow and Warsaw today. Continue reading

Giving Back?

By Joe Boxer, Mazkir 5777-8

A few musings.

Giving back?

Over the past few years, I have spoken to numerous different people who were about to take on various roles in our tnua. One of the classic questions we ask is “why do you want to be a madrich/a?” Whilst I have heard some fantastic and thought provoking ideas, more often then not, the answer is “because I want to give back.” Now there is an amazing logic in this answer, BA has given me x amount, therefore it is my responsibility to repay it in kind. In other words, “giving back,” makes BA out to be a business, I have taken a certain amount out, therefore I will give back in equal measures. Continue reading