We Will Prevail: A Message from Rabbi Brander

It is now nearly 72 hours since Israel was changed forever. On Shabbat morning, instead of celebrating a beautiful day of dancing with the Torah and spending the chag with families and friends, our morning tefillot were shattered by air raid sirens, followed by a steady stream of rumors of the horrors that were taking place in the south and the realization that we were at war.

The scope of the disaster has left our hearts broken.  We cannot get away from the thoughts of more than 100 of our fellow citizens – including babies and young children, senior citizens and their caretakers –in captivity at the hands of our bitterest enemies, who have proven there are no limits on where their terrorist drives will take them. We think of the teenagers who were simply enjoying their holiday in the country’s south, gunned down or abducted across the border into Gaza.  Among them is Rinat, daughter of our longtime and beloved educator Mechola Zagdon at our Katz Oriya High School. May they all be speedily freed from their captors and return home in good health. 

And now, we face the uncertainty ahead. OTS program directors and faculty members, as well as their spouses, children, and siblings, are amongst the thousands who have been called up in the massive mobilization to defend our nation.

At Ohr Torah Stone, we are mourning the loss of 21-year-old Staff Sergeant Roi Weiser, a graduate of our Derech Avot high school, 22-year-old Tal Levi from our ‘OTS Ariel’ high school for boys in Ramot, and Elchanan Kalmanson, 43, an alumnus of our Neveh Shmuel high school who are among the fallen, as well as relatives of several of our colleagues. May their memories, along with the memories of the hundreds whose lives have been taken from us, be a blessing.

There is hardly a home in Israel that has not been touched.

But the People of Israel are the eternal people – and we will prevail.

All of the infighting over the past year now seems absurd. We are all targets: left and right, pro-reform and anti-reform. Religious and secular Israelis are fighting terrorist shoulder to shoulder. What we forgot over the past year we relearned in a day.

For the next hundred years, these days will be discussed. Some will ask how this could have happened, and that is appropriate – but not now. Some will focus on the news clips showing the crashing down of the border gate, entry into the yishuvim, Jews dragged through the streets by terrorists, and the fight for the Sderot police station

However, I believe we need to focus on the moments of light and heroism that we have seen in these past few days. The father who recited the brachot for his son’s brit from the battlefield – stressing “living in both bloods”, as mentioned in the brit ritual.  The IDF officer whose son fell in battle, but as the body has not been released and therefore cannot be buried to allow Shiva to begin, the father returned to the front to command his unit. OTS rabbinic emissaries in the diaspora are leaving their families and coming back to Israel to serve and fight in the IDF. Dizengoff square, which on Yom Kippur was the center of disunity, has become a collection depot for food and other needs for soldiers jointly organized by both religious and secular.

Our alumnus Elchanan Kalmanson z”l was not drafted back into the IDF, but when the fighting broke out, he, his brother Menachem, and their sister’s son donned their uniforms, took the weapons they have as security personnel, and drove down in a private car to Kibbutz Be’eri to assist. They rescued dozens of civilians (pregnant women, elderly people, a little girl who was hiding in a closet and whose parents were murdered) until a terrorist hiding in one of the houses murdered Elchanan and wounded Menachem.

There is sadness all around, but not despair. There is grave concern, but not a lack of resolve. There is heroism everywhere you turn. And that will guarantee that as circuitous as it may be, the redemption process will be fulfilled.

With prayers for the healing of our wounded, freedom for those who have been taken into captivity in Gaza, and the safe and swift return of Israel’s soldiers and security forces.


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