Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Story Continues

We Begin Again: On Shabbat, October 14, 2023, Albuquerque Jews (and a few million others) were privileged to be able to observe - right over our heads, at the 2023 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta - an annular solar eclipse. 

In which the moon did not entirely block the sun, but instead obscured all but a "ring of fire" that continued to light our world.

Balloon Fiesta Eclipse

Exactly one week before this rare and exciting event, Albuquerque Jews (and a few million others) were horrified to be able to observe - in our own homeland - the most terrifying murder of our fellow Jews since the Holocaust.

What can we learn from these two events, so diametrically opposed? Abq Jew is (as you may have noticed) no darshan, but is able to offer the following:

  • Every now and then, an eclipse does happen.
  • The sun shines fully before an eclipse, and shines again afterward.
  • Even during an eclipse, the sun is still shining; we just can't see it.
  • An eclipse lasts but a short time; the sun and moon are forever.

And yet we Jews are shaking right now.

Dara Horn

As Dara Horn wrote this week in The New York Times.

Why Jews Cannot Stop Shaking Right Now

There is a reason so many Jews cannot stop shaking right now. The concept of intergenerational trauma doesn’t begin to describe the dark place into which this month’s attack plunged Jewish communities around the world.

On Oct. 7, a Jewish holiday, Hamas terrorists went house to house in southern Israel murdering and abducting children and grandparents, pulling them from their beds, displaying victims’ dead bodies online, in a massacre of at least 1,400 people. In at least one instance, terrorists were reported to have uploaded a video of the murder of one victim to her own social media account for her family to discover.

The feeling of deep dread that these atrocities stirred in Jews was horribly familiar. This is what Jewish history has all too often looked like: not civilians tragically killed in war but civilians publicly targeted, tortured and murdered, with the crimes put on public display. 

Accounts of past crowd-pleasing killings are folded into Jewish tradition; every Yom Kippur, we recount the public torture and execution of rabbis by their Roman oppressors in a packed second-century stadium. Those ancient stories are consistent with the experiences of the more immediate ancestors of nearly every Jew alive today.

I’m not even talking about the Holocaust, which several of last week’s oldest escapees and victims also endured. (Far more Jews were killed on Oct. 7 than on Kristallnacht.) 

No, I’m thinking of the Farhud pogrom in 1941 Baghdad, a two-day rampage in which hundreds of Jews were raped, tortured and murdered. I’m thinking of the pogroms of 1918 to 1921 in Ukraine, in which an estimated 100,000 Jews were slaughtered in organized massacres, reminiscent of this month’s attack.

I’m thinking of the lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia in 1915, after which the delighted crowd’s snapshots of Frank’s body were made into postcards mailed around the country and pieces of his clothing were sold as souvenirs. 

I’m thinking of how many of the earliest books off Europe’s first printing presses were about the executions of Jews accused of blood libel and of a 10th-century massacre of thousands of Jews in the Spanish caliphate encouraged by a poem calling for Jewish blood and of the paintings and illuminated manuscripts showing Jews who were burned alive by the Spanish Inquisition and during the Black Death — all crowd-pleasing events celebrated in popular media and art.

Even ancient Romans celebrated their destruction of Judea by issuing commemorative coins featuring a bound Jewish woman and inscribed with the words “Judaea capta.” The humiliation and murder of Jews have always made a great meme.

Many American Jews, like Jews around the world, are descendants of those who survived. Our ancestors, in one way or another, were the ones who either made lucky decisions or barely made it out alive from Lodz and Kyiv and Aleppo and Tehran.

For diaspora Jews, the recent attacks were not distant overseas events. As was true in ancient times, the ties between global Jewish communities and Israel are concrete, specific, intimate and personal. 

My New Jersey Jewish Federation has institutional ties with the southern Israeli town of Ofakim and its surrounding communities, sharing annual home stays with a place whose death toll from the attacks already exceeds that of the notorious Kishinev pogrom of 1903, in which 49 Jews were murdered. 

Millions of American Jews, not to mention Jews in Britain, France, Australia and elsewhere, have friends and relatives in Israel. Even if Hamas hadn’t made it clear that they see all Jews as targets, our connection is personal and all too real.

We spent days desperately scrolling to learn who among our acquaintances was dead, maimed or captive, connecting American hostages’ families with State Department contacts, attending panic-stricken online briefings and pooling resources and supplies for victims — all while fighting obtuse official statements from our own towns, schools, companies and universities that refused to mention the words “Israel” or “Jews” in referring to the largest single-day massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, lest some antisemite take offense at the existence of either.

We have tried to get our children off social media, shielding them from images of the violence. We’ve held mass fasts, recited psalms and sung ancient prayers for the rescue of captives. 

And as we gather by the thousands despite our many contradictory opinions and despite the extra security required for our gatherings even here, we have returned to the words of our ancestors that have carried us through thousands of years: 

Be strong and courageous. Choose life.

Many of us were physically carrying those words during the weekend of the attack, celebrating Simchat Torah, a joyous holiday when congregations dance with Torah scrolls, read the Torah’s final words and then scroll back to the beginning to start the book again.

As a child, I found this baffling. Why read the same story over and over, when we already know what happens? As an adult, I know that while the story doesn’t change, we do. 

What defines Jewish life is not history’s litany of horror but the Jewish people’s creative resilience in the face of it. 

In the wake of many catastrophes over millenniums, we have wrestled with God and one another, reinvented our traditions, revived our language, rebuilt our communities and found new meanings in our old stories of freedom and responsibility, each story animated by the improbable and unwavering belief that people can change.

Right now many of us feel trapped in this old, old story, doom-scrolling through images with terrible outcomes. 

But in our grief, I remind myself that each year as we finish the reading of the Torah, we immediately, at that very moment — and at the moment of this newest, oldest horror — scroll back to the story of creation and the invention of universal human dignity. 

We recall, once again, that
every human is made in the divine image. 

The story continues; we begin again.

Wedding Army

Many of us are mourning the more than 1400 of our Israeli cousins who have been taken from us. And some of us are mourning more personal losses of family members and old, dear friends.

And yet in Israel, there are weddings - many, many weddings - taking place. Simcha - joy - takes precedence over mourning.

There is a story in the Talmud of two processions – a wedding procession and a funeral procession – that meet at an intersection too narrow to allow both to pass. One of the processions will need to step aside to allow the other to progress; but which one should go first? 
The rabbis concluded that the wedding procession should get the right of way. Why? Because hope and optimism about the future (as represented by the bride and groom) should always take precedence over the past. We are a people who believe in the future – even in the face of sadness.
Rabbi David Wolpe

And Rabbi David Wolpe reminds us:

In the midst of rage and pain and loss,
take a breath and a moment
to renew your soul with the beauty of the world,
the love of others who care, and the recognition
of that which is greater than any of us.

Am Yisrael Chai

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Learning From Our Pain

Kabbalat Shabbat at Temple Beth ShalomOn Friday, October 13th, Kabbalat Shabbat services were held at Temple Beth Shalom, led by Rabbi Neil Amswych and Cantor Lianna Mendelson. 

You may wish to scroll down and read Santa Fe Vigil for Israel first.

Temple Beth Shalom

Here is Rabbi Amswych's sermon.

Rav Neil Amswych

Learning From Our Pain

When over a thousand Jews were deliberately slaughtered on one day last week, other than the profound sense of loss and the resurgence of the historical trauma, suddenly an overwhelming number of Jews felt very alone. 

Yes, some governments posted the Israeli flag on famous landmarks in support, but on social media there was almost silence, except by Jews. Hardly any messages of comfort, hardly any messages of consolation. 

When the Charlie Hebdo massacre happened, everyone wrote “Je suis Charlie” on their Facebook profiles. When Russia invaded Ukraine, everyone changed their Facebook profile picture to the Ukrainian flag. 

But when 1200 Jews are slaughtered in a single day, there was social media silence… except by one group – those who were celebrating. 

As pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Sydney chanted “Gas the Jews,” others in America publicly praised the murderous terrorists for beheaded babies as part of their struggle for liberation. Suddenly, vast swathes of the Jewish community felt profoundly attacked. So, we hoped for friends, colleagues, to turn around and offer silence, but little came. 

Higher Educational establishments were silent in their condemnation of the murderous rampage while professors and student groups celebrated what they stated were acts of decolonization, because they have for so long equated the State of Israel as a colonialist project and have only been able to do so by starting the history of Israel a hundred years ago, instead of the two thousand years, during which time there have always been Jews in the land, to a greater or lesser extent. 

Rallies called for an end to 75 years of occupation, despite the fact that Gaza and the West Bank were occupied in 1967, which means that America’s currently best educated were saying that the entire State of Israel is an occupation and the only way to end it is to end the state of Israel, which is exactly what Hamas wants to do.  

From far left to far right across the political spectrum, countless politicians blamed the Jews for the attack on their own people.

In the face of these attacks, could we at least rely on our friends and colleagues to support us? Their silence was deafening. A smattering of interfaith colleagues got in touch and offered support. They had learned from the Congregation Beth Israel hostage crisis in 2022 that when one Jew is attacked, all Jews are attacked. They had learned of the fear that every Jew feels when one Jew is attacked. 

But most did not. 

Now, vast swathes of the Jewish community felt not just attacked but profoundly alone. Some personal friends who have learned the lessons of recent attacks reached out immediately. 

But the Interfaith Leadership Alliance of Santa Fe, of which I was President for 6 years, failed to condemn the attacks or offer support. The local Catholic Church failed to reach out or to condemn the attacks.  Not one politician in the first few days reached out. 

It was a profoundly lonely time, and apparently I wasn’t the only person experiencing this silence – it was experienced by countless Jews all around the world. 

It was only when Jewbook – as Jewish social media is often called – started to publicly point out both that silence implies consent and also that the Jewish community was scared and in need of support – only then did people start getting in touch. It’s been a week, and now the calls are slowly coming in. 

Why did this happen? Is the Jewish community always bound to be alone? Is there an existential loneliness to the Jew, trying to get one foot into society but constantly being reminded how far the other foot is also outside society? 

For a few days, it definitely felt like it, and I know that for many Jews that is still the case. 

Israel Flag

Talking to my friends, though, I have come to believe that there are four reasons why there was such a lack of response to Jewish mass murder. 

Firstly and most importantly, the idea that when one Jew is attacked all Jews are attacked is actually alien to those outside the Jewish community. 

Had they known Israelis, they might have reached out to them and their families…. Although I know some Israeli families who went uncontacted for a long time. Not all but many - perhaps most - non-Jews literally don’t understand the idea that all Jews are family. Added to that, they don’t understand generational trauma. 

They don’t understand what it is to need security at their place of worship. They don’t ever consider whether they might be attacked simply for who they are, and that no place is truly safe. They don’t know what it is to be the victim of hatred for thousands of years. They don’t understand fear. They literally don’t get it. 

The second reason that I believe that there was so little response for so long was because there is so much suffering in the world that everyone is overwhelmed. 

On the same day as the terror attack by Hamas, the first of a number of earthquakes hit western Afghanistan. When we’re awash with horror every day that doesn’t affect us personally, we become so desensitized to it. Twice as many people died in those earthquakes as Jews who died in the terror attack, so which should they care about more if they have no personal attachment to either? 

The problem with global information is that we’re not mentally capable of processing it. Which is more tragic to the non-Jewish observer – that 1200 Israelis died or that 2400 Afghans died? In the end, there’s only so much pain that people can carry, and only so many crises that they can respond to.

The third reason for people not being in touch, I think, is the utterly abhorrent narrative about Israel being a colonial project. 

I went to a presentation years ago in England where a woman said that there were no Jews in Israel before 1948. I know that there are people locally who teach that Israel is the white man’s attempt to colonize land belonging to brown people. 

The only way to say such a thing is to be totally ignorant of Judaism, to be totally ignorant of two thousand years of daily prayers yearning to return to the land. Any history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that starts with Zionism, or with 1948, is always going to be skewed against the Jews. 

So, when people who know nothing of this hear of Israelis dying, they imagine Native Americans rising up against cowboys, or Indians or Zulus against the British Army. Murder against innocent civilians becomes an act of defiance against tyranny. 

As a result, so many of those who struggle against oppression end up aligning themselves with terrorists – minority groups say that the plight of the Palestinians is like their own plight – so they perversely end up supporting people who would gladly murder them for their beliefs, for their faith or for their sexual orientation. 

Consciously or unconsciously, they couldn’t see victims of terror in a blatant terrorist attack. The ignorance is profound when you consider how many Palestinians have died in the response to the terror attack – how anyone could celebrate it as anything positive for Palestinians is bewildering. 

The fourth reason that I think many non-Jews stayed out of touch with Jews in the liberal community is because liberal people struggle to admit that evil truly exists. 

Evil is always explained away as a lack of education, as a result of poverty, or as something that can be fixed. The moral underpinning of all liberal thought is that everything can be improved. Most people have no experience of evil, they have witnessed it from afar on the news but they have never faced it. 

Because they have no personal experience of it, when it appears in the news, they can explain it away. 

It can’t be that bad, Jews can’t be facing unmitigated evil, they must have provoked it in some way, or it must just be because of the abject poverty in the Gaza Strip. I don’t need to console them because they must have somehow caused it. 

It’s the deicide accusation in another form – anything bad that happens to the Jews can’t be because of our intolerance but must be because they killed our God. This must be nuanced – nobody can be that evil – and who wants to wade into a nuanced situation? 

Where does this leave us, the Jewish community? 

It leaves us feeling lonely, for sure, but I think it also leaves us with a mission. After thousands of years of being excluded from society, after thousands of years of mainstream society turning a blind eye to our pain, we have to show the rest of the world what it means to be Jewish. 

We have to teach those who have been indifference what their indifference has done to us and, as a result, done to them. We have to help them to see that not all pain is the same. 

This morning, I received a call from the office of a certain politician – I won’t say who. Their staff person offered their support and asked how we were doing. I explained that we were mourning. She replied, “I know exactly how you feel.” “No. You don’t.” I had to tell her. 

Many of them just don’t get it, so we have to teach them. We have to teach them to care for every oppressed people. We have to teach them what pain is, what fear is, so that they can help reduce it. 

Maybe that is our Messianic task – not to change the world ourselves but to be or lagoyim – a light to the nations showing them how they also need to profoundly change. We cannot assume that the world cares about us, we have to show the world how to care about us and why. I think that process has started. 

But we have a long way to go. 

May our pain from this week and our experience of profound loneliness in the days that followed our trauma be what helps to change the world. May the suffering of our people find meaning at least in the transformation of human society. May we all play our part in being or lagoyim

And let us say, Amen.


A note (Wednesday, October 18) from Rabbi Amswych's Facebook page:

I just had a twenty-minute conversation with Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez. 

She called to condemn the horror of so many Jews being slaughtered, and to offer support to our community. 

She listened as I explained how lonely so many Jews feel right now - not on the international stage but personally. She really heard it.

She is the only politician in New Mexico to have called to offer support to the Jewish community. I am impressed.

Am Yisrael Chai

Monday, October 16, 2023

Santa Fe Vigil for Israel

At Temple Beth Shalom: On Tuesday, October 10th, the Santa Fe Jewish community held a Cross-Communal Vigil for Israel. It was held at Temple Beth Shalom, and was led by Rabbi Neil Amswych and Cantor Lianna Mendelson.

The vigil was covered by the Santa Fe New Mexican, and was recorded by Temple Beth Shalom via StreamSpot.

TBS Vigil
Rabbi Neil Amswych and Cantor Lianna Mendelson lead the group
gathered at a cross-communal vigil Tuesday at Temple Beth Shalom
 in Santa Fe in prayer and song. Gabriela Campos/The New Mexican

Here are Rabbi Amswych's words that started the vigil.

We are here because last Shabbat, the greatest pogrom in eighty years against the Jewish people took place, the largest deliberate slaughter of Jews in one day since the Holocaust. 

This is yet another horrific chapter in the history of our people. We had hoped and prayed that we were beyond this, that humanity had progressed beyond this point, that there were places where we could truly feel safe. 

But we were wrong. 

This is therefore a time of deep trauma, a time of profound mourning and loss, a time when we, the Jewish community, sit in grief. This is a memorial service, as well as a service of prayers for hope, and most importantly, this is a chance to support those among us this evening who have lost family and friends, those who still don’t know what has happened to loved ones, and those who are terrified for the future of their loved ones. 

We come from a wide variety of viewpoints regarding how to create peace in the Middle East but we are not here to discuss that this evening, and we ask that you please respect that tonight - so that we can all support those here tonight who are mourning and those who are suffering from deep, profound trauma. 

Of course, we pray for peace in the world. Of course, we live in the hope that eventually nation will not lift up sword against nation and will never again learn war any more. Of course, all suffering around the world, including in the Middle East, troubles us deeply. Of course, those things are true. 

But that is not why we are gathered here this evening. 

We are here because Jews like us, members of our extended family, were hunted in their homes. Beheaded. Shot. Kidnapped. Over a thousand Jews slaughtered indiscriminately by murderous animals in one day. 

Here at Temple Beth Shalom, we actively work for justice and for peace in the Middle East in many differing ways. 

Tonight, that work takes the form of acknowledging the extraordinary pain of our people in the face of monstrous slaughter. 

Tonight, we gather because we have just relearned the lesson that every generation of Jews before us also was forced to learn – that there will always be people who want to kill us, and that we will always, always stand up to them.

Since the beginning of our people, Amalek has always risen up to try to destroy us. In differing generations, it takes differing forms, but its mission is always the same - not compromise, not peace, not co-existence, but annihilation. 

We have always stood up to their murderous ways, and we always will. Their act of barbarity brings the Jewish community in Santa Fe and around the world closer together. 

Tonight’s Vigil for Israel is led by clergy from four differing Jewish communities here in Santa Fe - by me, Rabbi Neil, and Cantor Lianna from Temple Beth Shalom, by Rabbi Jack Shlachter from HaMakom, by Rabbi Martin Levy from Beit Tikvah, and by Rabbi Berel Levertov from Chabad. 

We also have two of many Israeli members from the Santa Fe Jewish community participating this evening. Cantor Cindy [Freedman, of HaMakom] and Cantor Ephraim [Herrera, of Beit Tikvah] were not able to be with us this evening, although they absolutely wanted to be. We are united across this Jewish community in our absolute condemnation of acts of barbarity and terror, and in our support for the existence of the State of Israel. 

When one Jew is attacked, all Jews are attacked.
When one Jew is attacked, all Jews are attacked. 

To the non-Jews who are here this evening, we profoundly thank you for your presence, and we ask you for two things. 

Firstly, hear our pain and ask what you can do to support us. Don’t assume, ask. Listen before speaking. 

Secondly, speak out against this barbarous pogrom. Condemn it for all its inhumanity. See it for what it is – one of the greatest acts of terrorism of the modern age. The non-Jewish world has for millennia sat by silently while Jews were slaughtered. 

In recent times, it has equivocated, it has tempered condemnation of violence against Jews with subtle and unsubtle critiques of Israel or of the Jewish community. It supported the victim while simultaneously blaming the victim. 

We beg you not to do that this time. 

There is no excuse for invading a country and beheading its babies. There is no justification for hunting down innocent people in their homes. 

You didn’t try to justify what drove homicidal terrorists to murder innocent people decades ago on 9/11 and we beg you not to do the same now. Sit with us, hear our pain, hear our prayers, pray with us, and condemn in the loudest possible terms those who have done this.

There is much that everyone in this Sanctuary could say about what has happened in the past few days, but we ask that you please allow us to move through our vigil this evening uninterrupted - so that we can provide comfort and support to so many who are here in so much pain. 

This is a vigil to provide support, so please allow us to do that. The horror of what has happened over the last few days, and what is happening now, is monumentally difficult to process. We are here to help as many people process this as possible.

We are here not only this evening -
but in the coming days, weeks, and months. 

Many of you here may already be experiencing signs of trauma – forgetfulness, feelings of being overwhelmed, lack of sleep, depression – and much more. We are here to support you. If you need confidential pastoral support, we are here for you. That is why we gather in community – to support each other through the good times and the bad.

I would like to close with a prayer written by Rabbi Karyn Kedar:

We gather together, in faith and with hope to pray for peace and for the safety of the people of Israel.

Help us, O Holy One and protect us in our hour of need. Touch our hearts lest they are hardened with despair. Guide our thoughts lest they are overcome with fear.

Bring healing to the wounded, strength to those in mourning, courage to those in fear, wisdom to those who lead.

Yedid nefesh, Beloved One, reveal Yourself and fill the world with Your light. Spread over us the shelter of Your peace. 

Be quick, God of love, for the time has come. Have mercy upon us, Eternal One of peace.

And let us say, Amen.

We Are With You

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

May God Avenge Their Blood

Simchat Torah Massacre: These have been terrible days in the history of Jews, in the history of Israel, and in the history of the world. 

Many different people - Jews, non-Jews, Americans, Citizens of the World - have reacted to the Simchat Torah Pogrom, the Shemini Atzeret Massacre, the High Holiday Horror, in many different ways. 

Barzilai Logo

Opposition Leader MK Yair Lapid said on CNN:

This is the worst day in our history since the Holocaust.
Since the Holocaust, there was never such a number
of Jews killed in one day.


In the days following the October 2018 Tree of Life Massacre in Pittsburgh, Abq Jew took little consolation in the Stronger Than Hate theme - and the prayers for peace - that emerged. 

Instead, Abq Jew focused (see Avenge. Redress. Vote Democratic.) on the end of the Av HaRachamim prayer, which includes the words


Like you, Abq Jew has been following everything going on - at The Jerusalem Post (which has been subjected to numerous cyberattacks), at The Times of Israel, on Facebook, and on X (formerly Twitter), which has minute-to-minute updates from usually-reliable sources.

Like you, Abq Jew has seen the horrifying images and heard the terrifying stories. And, like you, Abq Jew has seen the death notices - dear God, so many death notices! - and the searches for people missing and not heard from.

Many of the death notices do not end with the usual acronym ז״ל, zichrono/a l'bracha, of blessed memory, z"l. Instead the appellation used is often

Hashem Yakum

הי״ד, Hashem yakum damo/a/am, may God avenge his/her/their blood, HY"D. Which is used after the name of someone killed because he was Jewish, as a prayer to God that He avenge his death.

After the Tree of Life Massacre, Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik wrote this response in Commentary. It begins with a familiar quotation from Deuteronomy. The one about Amalek.
Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt — how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. 
And Rabbi Soloveitchik continues. Instead of "Pittsburgh" - read "southern Israel."
As the names of the Jews murdered in Pittsburgh were released, many of their co-religionists, responding online to this unthinkable occurrence, looked to Jewish tradition and parlance. “Zichronam Livracha,” some of them typed. “May their memories be a blessing.” 
That is indeed the phrase usually utilized to mark the passing of a Jew, and it was heartfelt. But it was also, in this context, insufficient and therefore inappropriate. 
When Jews are murdered because they are Jews—by a Nazi in Auschwitz, by a terrorist in Netanya, or by an anti-Semite in Pittsburgh—then the traditional phrase we use is different, and starker.

Hashem Yikom Damam, we say.

May God avenge their blood. The phrase draws on several biblical verses, paralleling the 13th-century prayer known as Av HaRachamim, which, commemorating those murdered in the Crusades, cites the Psalms: 
Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” 
Let it be known among the nations in our sight 
that You avenge the spilled blood of Your servants. 
And it says: “For He who exacts retribution
for spilled blood remembers them. 
He does not forget the cry of the humble.”
Prayers such as these illustrate something fundamental about Judaism. Memory is central to Jewish life; that is why we pray after any death that the one who has passed should be remembered. 
Yet when it comes to murdered Jews, our recollection of how they died must be joined forever with a prayer for divine vengeance.

Why is this so? 

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 
We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. 
To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable. 
Zaka Logo

The Tree of Life Massacre taught us many things that we did not wish to know. Among them - how the martyred are to be buried. In November 2018, Shira Telushkin wrote in Tablet Magazine:
Throughout Jewish history, the blood of the Jewish martyr has served as an active witness against the horror of the crime they endured. In accordance with historical law, when someone is murdered for being Jewish—for dying al kiddush hashem, for the sanctification of God’s name—there is the tradition to bury the individual in the clothing in which they were murdered. 
The individual is not washed or dressed in the typical shrouds, or tachrichim, of the Jewish dead; their own blood is understood to recommend them far more than any purification ritual ever could. 
They need no further purification; they have been made holy in their death, and their clothing itself engenders God’s mercy, and demand God’s justice on earth. The blood is supposed to outrage those who witness it, and stir the Jewish people from any complacency to such an act.
HaShem Yakum

Rabbi Soloveitchik continues:
But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem Yikom Damam bears a deeper message. 
It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of 11 Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. 
There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. 
The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the Chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way. 
Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” 
Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. 
To say Hashem Yikom Damam is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation — and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.
Swords of Iron

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Stay A Little Longer Again!

And Play Some Bluegrass! The Holiday of Sukkot is almost behind us. On Friday we will celebrate Hoshana Rabba (see The Great Hosanna), which is technically the seventh day of the Festival of Booths.

And Shabbat is the Holiday of Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly. In the Land of Israel, it's also Simchat Torah; here in חו״ל (the Diaspora), Simchat Torah follows Shemini Atzeret.

We all know what Simchat Torah means. But what about Shemini Atzeret?

Rabbits Talmud

As it turns out - חז״ל (Our Sages, of blessed memory) also had a problem with Shemini Atzeret.
  • In some ways, Shemini Atzeret is the Eighth, Concluding Day of Sukkot. Why else would 'Eighth' be its very name? But Pesach also has concluding days - known simply as Pesach 7 (and in the Diaspora) Pesach 8.
  • And in other ways, Shemini Atzeret is its very own holiday. For example: we are not required to eat / dwell in the Sukkah on Shemini Atzeret. We are allowed to (of course) - but we don't have to. And we already wrecked our Lulav and Etrog on Hoshana Rabba. As Chabad tells us:
The day after the seventh day of Sukkot ...  is a mysterious Jewish holiday. In some respects, Shemini Atzeret is considered as part of Sukkot, but in other respects it is a distinct holiday unto itself. 
The enigmatic nature of the day is perhaps most overt in the way the Torah introduces it. 
After Sukkot, during which all nations, Jews and non-Jews, celebrated and brought sacrificial offerings to the Temple, G‑d makes a special request of the Jewish people (Leviticus 23:36):
On the eighth day [from the start of Sukkot], it shall be an atzeret to you . . .
The commentator Rashi elaborates that the term atzeret, literally “holding back,” is one of affection, as a father would say to his children who are departing him: 
Your departure is difficult for me. Please stay with me for just one more day!
After all the other nations have gone home, G‑d asks the Jewish people to “hold back” for one more day of celebration—Shemini Atzeret.
The Grascals

Which of course brings to what is left, after all these years, of Abq Jew's mind - the Bob Willis-Tommy Duncan Western swing song Stay A Little Longer.

Here performed by the award-winning bluegrass band The Grascals (formerly Dolly Parton's back-up band and opening act).

Featuring (on banjo, of course) Kristin Scott Benson, 2023's IBMA's Banjo Player of the Year (for the fifth time) and 2018 winner (see Shemini Atzeret: Stay A Little Longer!) of the Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) Prize of Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.

Kristin Scot Benson 2023

Kristin Scott Benson

“My family and I are overwhelmed with gratefulness! Getting to know my banjo heroes, many of whom are on the board, is prize enough, but Steve Martin’s graciousness is a huge blessing. We don’t know how to adequately say thank you for something like this!”
Kristin Scott Benson, 2018 Steve Martin Prize
for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Recipient

Beranstain Bears

Hag Sameach, New Mexico!
Good Yontif, Albuquerque!

But wait!