Ohr Torah Stone: Impacts and Reactions to Oct. 7
By Deborah Melman | November 30, 2023
Following on the heels of the massive rally in Washington, Ohr Torah Stone (OTS) held a webinar via Zoom on Nov. 15. “A Night of Unity and Solidarity” with Israel featured various friends and affiliates of Ohr Torah Stone who spoke about the impact the events of Oct. 7 had on them and their families.
Laurence Schreiber, OTS chairman of the board, North America, opened the session by noting that their annual fundraising dinner was to have been held that week, but was moved to February 2024 in light of the sobering events. The webinar was organized as an opportunity to “come together and give strength to one another” as “we collectively deal with the full range of emotions ranging from anxiety, fear, and grief to pride, empathy, a sense of unity and clarity of purpose that will help us move forward.”
Following Misheberach prayers for the IDF and civilian wounded, hostages and all impacted, OTS President and Rosh Hayeshiva Rabbi Dr. Katriel (Kenny) Brander introduced the first segment in which two OTS families described how they were coping with the loss of their children.
Mechola and Moriel Zagdon’s daughter Rinat had been near Kibbutz Be’eri and her whereabouts were unknown for more than a week. Her phone had been located in Gaza, but the family had had no contact with her. The family was notified of her death a week later. Moriel described both his children as a source of immense pride: his son who had tried to save his sister and Rinat for her work with children at a boarding school. Mechola added that Rinat’s laid-back approach to life is one that everyone can learn from. She was never stressed by time constraints, such as preparing for an early Shabbat. “It is an incredible quality to be able to remove stress and believe everything will get done in time.”
Staff Sgt. Roey Weiser’s parents described his death defending his military base until additional troops could arrive. “He always thought ‘outside the box.’ Even though they were greatly outnumbered and surrounded by terrorist troops, he found a creative way to hold off the attackers,” said his father, Yami Weiser. His parents added that mothers of other soldiers called to say how much Roey gave to others without singling them out as having been in need. His superior officers noted that Roey would approach them and tell them what they were doing wrong – but in the spirit of continuous improvement and not as a troublemaker. He died a hero, his parents noted, and were appreciative of the opportunity OTS provided to talk about their son.
Yakov Machloof, a temporary resident of Efrat, described his experiences on Oct. 7 and the impact on his family. Over 1,000 missiles fell on his hometown of Ashkelon and his seven children were very frightened. Machloof was called up to his unit and was unsure how he would be able to care for his family. Finding direction in a WhatsApp group, he found that OTS in Efrat was hosting people unable to stay in their homes due to the war. The family went to Efrat and were quickly made to feel at home. Meals were brought over, clothing and household goods were distributed, and teenage community members took it upon themselves to take care of everything without having to ask. While the children of the families taking refuge were provided with toys, games and art projects, their mothers were offered spa treatments and manicures. “While it is not comfortable to be without your home or possessions, the residents of Efrat made it possible and pleasant.” Machloof hopes the war will soon be over and he can return to his home. But he will never forget the loving-kindness that only the nation of Israel knows how to do and he will never forget the people of Efrat. “I hope to soon be able to reciprocate and invite them to my home too. They are now like family to me.”
Rabbi Eli and Rivka Magzimoff are OTS representatives in London. Upon hearing the news of what happened, Rivka went to services with their children while Eli stayed behind to find a flight back to Israel. Upon arriving in Israel, Eli noted how frightened people were to go out at night. “It was a level of fear I had never seen before.” Things have started to return to a level where people are able to laugh and share a little joy and togetherness. There is a “sense of mission and togetherness” among all groups that is hoped to continue. Rabbi Eli remains in Israel, while Rivka takes charge back in London. “By doing good deeds we are stronger and united. It is hard to comprehend what happened, but the strength and unity of the collective Jewish people is amazing.”
Rabbi Itamar and Rabbanit Michal Appelbaum have seen an increase of antisemitism, vandalism and pro-Palestinian graffiti as campus OTS representatives at Cornell University. A teaching assistant posted on social media that he would shoot people at the kosher dining hall, Jewish students are afraid to be identifiably Jewish by wearing a kippah or Jewish star jewelry and are scared to leave their dorm rooms. One student received a call asking how he was doing from a friend serving in the IDF — the IDF soldier was more worried about Jews at Cornell! The Appelbaums acknowledged that dealing with antisemitism is another level of their work. It is important to note that what has happened has united Jews all over the world and not just in the United States and/or Israel.
Rabbanit Sally Mayer, rosh midrasha at OTS’s Midreshet Lindenbaum, noted that her students are helping in any way they can in addition to prayer. The students identified alumnae whose spouses have been called up to their units and arranged to help those families with babysitting, cooking and other needs. “Chesed is in the small things. Knowing who is having a hard time now and how we can meet those needs is important.” The students created art kits to bring to hotels where displaced families were staying so the children would have something to occupy their time. At a time of challenge (et tzara) it is permissible for a female to tie tzitzit, so the students have learned to do so. Alumnae have raised money for barbecues at army bases and are doing everything they can to come together to support Israel.
The event concluded with a prayer for peace by OTS international director David Katz. Most noteworthy from each of the interviews and videos was the sense of strength and purpose shown by those impacted.
Ohr Torah Stone is a Modern Orthodox movement of 32 institutions and programs making a transformative impact on Jewish education, leadership and outreach worldwide.