By Mauricio Balter
A few days ago, I stopped writing this letter, because on Sunday a ceasefire was announced. Today, on Wednesday, we heard the sirens again. I am writing to share with you some of my experiences and feelings.
I did not think that I would be writing a war journal again, and despite the fact that the hope for peace still rings within me, reality demands attention.
Last Shabbat (August 20), I came as usual to our shul, Congregation Eshel Avraham in Beersheva. It was 9AM. One minute before the services began, the siren sounded. We all ran into the small shelter in our building. We took into account that we have less than 60 seconds, according to the Home Front Command, to find cover.
There was a tense quite as we looked at one another. We waited to hear the explosion. Our first hope is always directed towards Iron Dome, the new anti-rocket system that is capable of destroying the rocket in the air. Our second hope, in case Iron Dome fails, is that at least the rocket will explode in an open area. But we also know that hopes are not always actualized, and there is always a chance that a rocket will explode in a place filled with people, maybe even where we happen to be.
Tension. Fear. The silence is broken by the cries of one of the congregants. What to do?
Suddenly I remember that we also have tools in our arsenal for moments like these. I make a suggestion: Why don’t we start praying. We begin to sing together the “Ma tovu” prayer, “How wonderful are your tents, Jacob, your dwellings, Israel.” In the background we can hear the first explosion. After a few minutes in the shelter, we return to the synagogue sanctuary.
These moments, when you are in a building, are the hardest. But they will be even harder soon. The instructions are to take cover within seconds, and if there is nowhere to go, lie on the ground with hands on your head. As the minutes pass, more congregants arrive. It’s clear that they experienced the sirens outside on the street.
The first to arrive was a new immigrant woman from the former Soviet Union. When I asked her what she did, she replied that she tried her best to remain far from places with glass. She was breathing heavily because she had to run in order to get to a safe place – the synagogue. Each congregant had a different story; one, a new immigrant from Canada (arrived only a few months ago), said she crouched down and put her tallit over her head. Faith, it turns out, is a powerful weapon.
That morning – on a weekend in the middle of the Israeli summer, in the middle of the school holiday, in which many people were looking for somewhere outside the city where they could spend time in light of the circumstances – we had approximately 30 people at services.
We are believers, but we are also worried. In our congregation, we have eight preschool classes, in which 230 children come to learn every day. Today they are on holidays. But on the first of September, when the schoolyear begins, the tension will be enormous.
In our congregation we have two buildings. The new building has a shelter than can house 120 children and our staff. The old building, however, which is home to classes with 110 children from ages three months to three years, does not have a shelter. The entire community of Eshel Avraham and our friends around the world are doing our best to find the 180.000 dollars funding in order to urgently build the missing shelter. God willing we will have a real ceasefire so that we can come to synagogue to pray in peace, so that our children will not be in danger and the shelter will be just another play room.
May he who makes peace in high places, make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say, amen
.עושה שלום במרומיו, הוא יעשה שלום עלינו, על כל ישראל ועל כול יושבי תבל, ואמרו אמן
Rabbi Mauricio Balter - הרב מאוריסיו בלטר
Congregation Eshel Avraham - קהילת אשל אברהם
Beer Sheva - באר שבע
Israel - ישראל