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You could hear a pin drop – Joburg Jews join in prayer

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More than 2 500 Jews descended on Yeshiva Mizrachi in Johannesburg on Monday, 9 October, at 18:00 to pray for the state of Israel after the massacre on Saturday, in which 1 200 people were brutally murdered, 3 500 were wounded, and more than 150 captured and taken to Gaza as hostages.

In any other circumstance, the sheer number of people would have yielded a lot more chatter than there was on Yeshiva campus on Monday night. The atmosphere was sombre. People weren’t looking around to share the week’s gossip or goings on with their friends. There weren’t any excited greetings. Everyone was there for one reason, to show solidarity and pray for the people of Israel.

Even before you entered the Yeshiva College campus, the streets around it were filled with people and vehicles joining in this much-needed community event.

People kept filtering into the shul and outside area, even after the mincha service had started. There was praise for the Community Security Organisation and Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein for having the gumption to put on such a large event during such a horrific time in Jewish history. Attendees included members from every part of our community; school children; youth movements; those coming from work; young; old; and everything in between.

When Goldstein started to speak, the crowd became even quieter. He started his speech by talking about the brave sons of Rabbi Lawrence Perez, Yonatan Tzvi ben Sharon, who is recovering after being wounded in action; and Daniel Shimon Ben Sharon, who is missing in action in the south of Israel. And he sent his thoughts to those being called up to serve in this war.

Goldstein repeatedly urged everyone to come together as a community, and give all our strength to those in Israel and South Africa.

There wasn’t a person in our community who was completely unaffected by this war, he said. Everyone in that space knew someone or had an acquaintance, friend, or family member in Israel.

“We need to be able to say with conviction to our government, the African National Congress, that we don’t need its endorsement or support as its moral standing has been defined by the support of dictators. We mustn’t be desperate for its approval.”

Goldstein said we needed to advocate for Israel, and spread the word of its story to work colleagues, the media, and friends. He reminded those present that “those who support savagery and barbarism will be judged by G-d himself”.

The Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Eli Belotsercovsky, reiterated the fact that “this is a war that was imposed on us. We didn’t choose this war.”

Several rabbonim spoke about the fact that Israel and its people will survive and come out of this stronger. They spoke about defeating the descendants of Amalek, as Israel has done before, time and time again.

Avrom Krengel, the national president of the South African Zionist Federation, told the crowd, “Hashem didn’t listen to our prayers [which were said over the past yomtovim]. We need to pray every day like we do at shacharit on Yom Kippur. We need to daven the same way we do on our holiest days of the year. We need to daven this way until we have peace. We don’t know how long it will take.”

“We’ll get Hamas off of the face of the earth once and for all,” Krengel said to massive applause.

South African Jewish Board of Deputies National President Shaun Zagnoev shared how his son, who lives and works in Israel, wanted to donate blood to help the effort. He shocked the community by telling them that there weren’t enough grave diggers in Israel at the moment, and the government was looking for volunteers to help dig the graves of those who have lost their lives.

The service continued with the prayer for Israel, read by Rabbi Alon Friedman; the prayer for the soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces, read by Rabbi Yossi Chaikin; and the prayer for those who have been captured, read by Rabbi Yechezkel Auerbach.

After these three prayers, tehillim were said by Rabbis Dovid Hazdan, Nechemya Taylor, and Dayan Yoel Smith. In between every prayer, there was absolute silence. You could hear a pin drop. The only sound was the collective voice of 2 500 people joining together in prayer. Everyone joined in the tehillim, and the strength of the prayer was felt through the massive sound they made.

The service concluded with the singing of Hatikvah. It felt like the weight of the world was resting on the words. Everyone joined together, singing Israel’s national anthem with such passion, the volume was overwhelming. The anthem brought the hope that this isn’t over, and Israel will come back stronger than ever before.

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