Thousands of men crowded into the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue, with hundreds spilling out into the street, to hear the eulogies for Rabbis Aryeh Kupinsky, Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, and Kalman Levine, three of the four rabbis murdered along with a policeman early Tuesday morning in that same place.
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“We are here, standing in front of these three holy men, the best of our community, Torah scholars whose blood flowed like water,” intoned Rabbi Yitzchak Mordechai Rubin, chief rabbi of the synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood.
Only 10 hours earlier, as dozens of men were reciting their morning prayers, two Palestinian men from East Jerusalem had stormed into the synagogue, armed with a gun, a meat cleaver, and a gun. For long minutes they attacked the worshippers, killing four as well as policeman Zidan Siyif, who fought the attackers, and injured seven other people.
The funeral for the prominent Rabbi Moshe Twersky had taken place earlier that afternoon. By the time of the funerals – Siyif died in the hospital late last night – signs of the massacre had been wiped away, leaving only the smashed windows as evidence.
In accordance with Orthodox observance, the women, all dressed modestly in dark clothes, stood on the other side of the broad street, lining the long flights of stairs that connect the streets in this strictly religious neighborhood, built into hills on the outskirts of West Jerusalem. Others stood in a small playground, leaning on swings and slides. Many wept openly, as the rabbi said, his own voice nearly breaking, “When we count the widows and orphans that were added to the Israeli nation this morning, four widows, 24 orphans on one street.”
As the ceremony ended, the cortege, including at least a dozen buses, moved slowly on to the nearby Har Hamenuchot cemetery, where the men would be buried. Most of the crowd dispersed quietly. Within the half hour, the street was empty and quiet. Men returned to their study halls to continue studying Torah. Women and children returned to their homes.
Har Nof (in Hebrew, Mountain of Scenery), was established in the early 1980s. It is Jerusalem’s largest modern ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, with a population of some 22,000, a large portion of them immigrants from the United States and France. The wide, hilly streets are filled with synagogues, study houses, yeshivot, ritual baths, girls’ religious schools and other institutions to serve the community.
Those interviewed emphasized their unwavering belief in God and trust in his will.
Yerucham, a tall 17-year-old wearing a dark felt hat that distinguishes the sect of Orthodox Judaism to which he belongs, said he had just woken up and was getting ready for prayers when he heard the commotion, and then the gunfire.
“I ran out and I saw the dead and the wounded – old and young men, wrapped in talitot [prayer shawls] and tfillin [phylacteries],” he said. “It reminded me of the most horrible times in Jewish history, of the Holocaust, of the Jews who throughout the centuries have died for the sanctification of God’s name.”
“My prayer book is wet with my tears,” said a diminutive teenage girl wearing the long navy blue skirt and light blue buttoned blouse that is the uniform of the network of ultra-Orthodox Beit Yaakov girls’ schools.“They were murdered at the most holy moment of the service, the Amidah [a long collection of 18 prayers, recited silently]. I cry because it is so sad, but I know that this is God’s choice. We cannot know why He called these men to Him at that very moment. It is His will, and it is our role in life to fulfill His commandments.”
An elderly woman joined the brief conversation. “Our community will take care of the families. Twenty four orphans, grandchildren, wives. The community will provide them with professional counseling, with financial support if they need it, with attention and love.”
“We live our lives according to God’s commandments,” said an 18-year-old girl also wearing the Beit Ya’akov uniform. “That is why most of us have returned to our regular duties – because our regular day is a way of praising God. In other places when this happens, there are calls for revenge, but not here, not in our neighborhood.” Indeed, not far away, at the western entrance to the city, some right wing extremists were already beginning to demonstrate, calling for revenge. A group of policemen in a small courtyard near the synagogue, were picking up their riot gear and moving on. “They brought us here because usually, after a terror attack, there are extremists and violence. But not here. It’s quiet here, sad and quiet. Let’s just hope it stays that way.”