Prayer vigils, gatherings held among synagogue members — with security
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
In response to the attacks by Hamas on Israel on Saturday, Ashland Rabbi David Zaslow held a private prayer gathering at Havurah Shir Hadash this week, with armed security guards in tow.
The synagogue, one of three in Ashland, was recently awarded a federal grant for $150,000 for fortifying its security. The funds will help bolster exterior lighting, enhance its alarm system, and fortify the entrance to the synagogue with a buzz-in system with a security guard on site.
“It’s going to be six months before we can implement anything,” Zaslow told Ashland.news earlier this week at the synagogue. “The other synagogues already have it.”
Zaslow noted that higher security is necessary following events including a shooting that took 11 lives at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.
“Anything we do that has a public face to it, if people are invited from the public, we have to have guards there,” he said. “We’ve been building more and more security into the structure of our synagogue with lighting and cameras, recording devices and alarm systems, which is very sad that we have to spend money on things like security in the United States.”
At Havurah earlier this week, Zaslow put on his prayer shawl and opened up a cabinet holding the Torah. He removed it, covered by a purple Torah cover and rolled it open, pointing out the Creation story in the Book of Genesis, the first book in the Torah.
Zaslow’s heart has been heavy this week, following the attacks on those in Israel and, like others in the Jewish community locally, decided it was important to continue on with Sukkot (the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, celebrating the fall harvest and commemorating the desert wandering of the Jews during the Exodus), and also with Simhat Torah (marking the end of the annual cycle of Torah readings and the beginning of the next cycle) celebrations on Saturday, Oct. 7, which included dancing with the Torah, a special custom in the Jewish faith.
“The sad irony is that Simhat Torah means ‘the joy of the Torah’ and it’s our custom to have a … family celebration where adults and children come together and we open up the ark and take the Torah out of the Ark and dance with it to really joyous music,” Zaslow said via a phone interview earlier this week.
“So when I heard about this massacre that happened in Israel from Hamas, it not only shook me up, but also made me think of how appropriate it was to do a celebration of the Torah at a time of war going on in Israel,” he said. “I spoke with several colleagues of mine and we all had the same struggle to do it or not to do it, and my final conclusion was, not to let Hamas win another little battle by stopping our community from celebrating this beautiful five books of Moses that we call the Torah. And so even with our grief, our anger and our tears, we went ahead with the celebration.”
“It was a Simchat Torah like no other Simchat Torah, because of the nature of what was going on,” he added.
He acknowledged that those in attendance were struggling with the stark reality of what was happening amid a high holiday.
“How do you dance? How do you sing when our brothers and sisters in Israel were being slaughtered?” Zaslow said.
Rabbi Julie Benioff of Temple Emek Shalom, who was traveling this week, sent Ashland.news a statement in reaction to the events in Israel. Benioff said her congregation also continued to celebrate Sukkot and Shabbat service in honor of Shmini Atzeret on Saturday, which is an additional day of joy that happens at the end of Sukkot.
Her synagogue ministers to 165 households from all over the Rogue Valley and beyond.
“We wove into the Saturday morning service a significant acknowledgement of the seriousness of what was unfolding in Israel, and incorporated prayers for peace and healing, as we still celebrated with joy,” Benioff said in a written statement. “Likewise we still danced with our Torah scrolls and celebrated them Saturday night. Moving forward with joy felt important as a way to honor our holidays and ourselves as a people, and also to honor those in Israel who could not.
“We sang songs of peace, strength, and overcoming and, in the verses of Torah that we read, we recalled the strength, courage, and character of Moses, our greatest prophet, and the possibility of new beginnings found in the story of creation. This was all so affirming and comforting.”
At Havurah, Zaslow acknowledged that many in Israel are suffering, not just Jews, and many are being supportive of Israel, not just fellow Jews and Christians.
“Americans of all faith traditions, Muslims who want peace, Christians who want peace, Buddhists, non-religous people,” he said. “When we say Israelis, most people think we’re talking about Jewish Israelis, but Jews are two-thirds of the population.”
One-third of the population includes Christians, Muslims and Druze faiths.
“Israel is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-religious country, and that’s what’s so disturbing to Hamas,” Zaslow said.
He said Hamas does not represent the citizens of Gaza, who have been the greatest victims.
“(Hamas) want the complete destruction of Israel. They’re not looking for a two-state solution. There is no peace with them,” he added. “That’s the tragedy.”
Chabad Jewish Center of Southern Oregon did not return requests for comment by Ashland.news, but posted about a prayer gathering, with security present, held on Monday.
The center also shared a statement on their social media page this week: “We, the Jewish people, are a single person with many millions of faces, a single soul breathing within a multitude of diverse bodies. In each one of us is found all of Israel, and what any one does immediately reverberates through all the rest. If one should fall, all of us stumble. When one does a mitzvah, all of us participate. If one is suffering, all of us share that pain. When one rejoices, all of us dance and sing. None of us can say to the other, ‘You go your way and I will go mine.’ Wherever you go, you take some of me there with you, and where I go, you too will come along.”
According to a Facebook post Thursday on its page, the Chabad Jewish Center has also organized “Southern Oregon Lights4Israel,” saying “This Friday join Jewish women and girls around the world in lighting Shabbat candles to bring light and blessings to our brothers and sisters in the land of Israel. Let’s illuminate a world plunged into darkness!” Contact the center (541-482-2778, firstname.lastname@example.org, 1474 Siskiyou Blvd.) for free candle kits.
Zaslow, the Havurah rabbi, said planning is in the works for a larger public gathering to be held locally, with a time, date, and place to be determined.
Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at email@example.com.
Oct. 13: Story adjusted to reflect changes on the Chabad Jewish Center of Southern Oregon Facebook page.