As violence in Israel is ratcheted up, Jews in Pittsburgh are using prayer to show solidarity with Israelis and to come to grips with the situation themselves.
On Monday, March 21, some 200 worshippers packed Congregation Poale Zedeck’s “Communal Tehillim and Divrei Chizuk,” held for the five members of the Fogel family who were murdered in their home in the Itamar community. The program, organized by the Vaad HaRabbonim, Rabbis Daniel Yolkut, Daniel Wasserman of Shaare Torah and Yisroel Rosenfeld of Yeshiva Schools participated in the special service for Rav Udi and Ruth Fogel, and their children Yoav, 11, Elad, 4 and Hadas, 3 months.
And this past Shabbat, area congregations included Mary Jean Gardner, 59, the lone fatality in the March 23 bus bombing in central Jerusalem, which also injured at least 36 others, on their yahrzeit and shiva lists.
Religious leaders are concerned by heightened violence, which also included a rocket attack on Beer Sheva and Israeli reprisals in Gaza and the West Bank.
“It’s really important for a community on a micro level, or even a macro level, to indentify or feel the pain of our brothers or sisters,” Poale Zedeck’s Yolkut said. He said tragedies such as these have “spiritual repercussions” on Jews living far from the scenes of the crimes.
“There is a strong need for American Jews to be able to internalize the suffering of Jews anywhere in the world, but certainly in Israel,” he continued.
In addition, Yolkut said it is “critical” for Jews to express their spiritual needs if the violence escalates.
“Someone going through a personal crisis is often a catalyst for prayer taking on a new urgency, a new immediacy,” he said. “Thank G-d, it’s been a number of years since Israel has seen this level of danger,” he added. “No question, we need to think seriously about our relationship with God as it is expressed in prayer — the formal prayer as well as the emotional and spiritual content — identifying with the feeling of crisis.”
Rabbi Mark Mahler of Temple Emanuel of South Hills, who planned to make the uptick in violence a topic for his Shabbat sermon this past week, said Jewish worshippers turn to prayer to seek understanding and solutions to grave issues.
“If a Jew is praying on this, it’s for a remedy for these problems,” he said.
Cantor Richard Berlin of the Parkway Jewish Center in the eastern suburbs, where the names of the victims have been included in the congregation’s memorial prayers, agreed that prayer has value for Jews wrestling with escalation of violence in the region, but he said prayer, or spirituality, are internalized differently depending on each Jew’s background and beliefs.
“Individually, people have different levels of concerns … particularly people whose children live there (Israel),” Berlin said. “The way we say tefilla changes with the way we feel and the way we respond to our world at a given time. I certainly felt that during the loss of my granddaughter, that the words take on new meaning for me.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)