Outside the Upper East Side townhouse which houses the Palestinian mission to the UN, under the torrents of October rains, almost one hundred people gathered on Friday for a memorial vigil in memory of the victims of Thursday’s West Bank shooting attack.
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Organized by Hebrew Institute of Riverdale's Rabbi Avi Weiss, the vigil was made up of mostly modern Orthodox Jews. Women in hats and headscarves and men in knitted yarmulkes stood somberly under umbrellas, alongside forty young students from the Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy.
This community, of modern Orthodox Zionist Jews, was perhaps the most closely affected by the murder, striking at the very heart of its scholarly leadership - Eitam Henkin was a respected rabbinic scholar and teacher. He was the son of Rabbanit Chana Henkin, a religious women's rights pioneer and the founder of Nishmat, one of the first religious seminaries to teach Talmud to women, where many young American women spend the post-high school year studying and where the first "yoetzet halakha" program, training women to be Halakchic advisers, was founded. The murder has sent ripples of shock throughout the Henkin family's many American disciples and the communities they have subsequently built.
“It’s been a very hard day,” said Shoshana Samuels, a yoetzet halakha and high school teacher in Teaneck, NJ. “The personal connection that so many people have with these people, particularly the women in the community, who had a relationship with Rabbanit Henkin or any yoetzet who was trained under her leadership and vision. A lot of people are hurting from this here in America, because people with great vision and accomplishments touch so many people. Any woman who has come here with a question, that’s thousands of women, really owe a debt to Rabbi and Rabbanit Henkin.” Samuels added that this is the second devastating attack on the Nishmat family; Rachelle Fraenkel, the mother of the kidnapped Naftali Fraenkel, is a Nishmat teacher and yoetzet halakha herself.
At the memorial vigil in Manhattan, participants sang Hebrew songs of peace and unity, wrapped in Israeli flags and holding signs. A child led the recitation of Psalms.
"We are one with you, Israel. You are not alone," cried Weiss, wrapped in his ubiquitous tallith. "As you cry, we cry. As you are in pain, we are in pain. I can't help but make this statement. When the leader of the Palestinian Authority declares in front of the United Nations that all agreements with Israel are abandoned, that sends a message to his constituents that you can do what you want. You can murder. I stand here in front of this building and I declare, 'The voice of my brothers and sisters cries out from the ground'."
"God willing, the United States will hear us," said Rabbi Asher Lopatin, head of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. "The world will hear us. And the PLO will hear us."
"I think it's a mistake when mourning in the throes of pain to politicize, but I couldn't help myself and say what I felt," Weiss said. "When Abbas speaks, people hear. When he said what he said yesterday at the UN, that all treaties are off, it sends a message. And that message was carried out yesterday."
Children took the signs they held ("Our eyes flow with tears" and "Stop the terror") and lined them in front of the Palestinian mission. The rain continued to pour, almost drowning out the voices of the vigil's speakers. Yellow taxis sped by. The windows of the Palestinian mission watched silently from behind the wrought iron.