By Elaine Rosenberg Miller
The year was 1967. My parents and sister and I resided in Boro Park, Brooklyn, a densely populated center of modern Orthodoxy. Our apartment overlooked a magnificent Italianate synagogue, Temple Beth-El, where the most celebrated cantor in the world, Moshe Koussevitsky, a regal, barrel chested man, led the prayers on the Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the new month) and the High Holidays. Listening to him as I sat in the women’s section in the balcony, watching his white silked figure, plead and chant for hours, I knew that I was in the presence of majesty, someone, it seemed, who had a direct connection to the Heavens.
But this day was different.
It was an ordinary weekday
The rabbi stood at the lectern.
The anguish and fear in the sanctuary was palpable.
It was twenty-two years since the end of World War Two and the liberation of the camps revealing the murder and death of six million European Jews.
The room was filled with Holocaust survivors, including my parents, five aunts and uncles and their children. Some of my relatives had black ink tattooed on their forearms, the mark of the concentration camp where they had been imprisoned.
Modern Israel, just completing its second decade was the depository of their hopes and pride and I, a teenager, enrolled in the American dream, fast-tracking the realization of their aspirations, was aware, that this day, here in Temple Beth-El was a watershed. We were not safe. Israel was not safe, despite the photographs of beaches, oranges and hora dancing young people.
What was going to happen to Israel? To us?
Israel was surrounded by hostile enemies. Tiny Israel, the size of New Jersey had been attacked and her enemies were determined to destroy her.
The rabbi spoke, money was raised.
I remember one man standing up. I don’t recall whether or not if he had the familiar accent of members of my family.
“I am giving my entire fortune,” he said. “If Israel falls, I have no reason to live.”
How that shocked me, me dancing to the Supremes, in love with The Beatles.
If Israel falls, I have no reason to live, he said.
I don’t recall how the Rabbi responded.
Though the adults seemed to be in a state of paralysis, they joined together under the massive domed ceiling, trying to comfort each other and take action.
The truth is the Rabbi didn’t say anything profound, didn’t quote Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) or the Torah. He had been shaken to his core.
I don’t remember how much money the congregants raised, but I am sure that the amount was substantial.
I am likewise confident that this scene was repeated in synagogue after synagogue from Brooklyn, NY to Kansas City, MO to San Francisco, CA.
Within days, the news arrived that Israel had defeated its enemies. Spectacularly.
And we knew that we had witnessed a miracle.
Today, as bombs rain on Israel again, we pray, once again, that our pleas, both conscious and unconscious be answered.
There is a young rabbi in my community of Palm Beach, FL who traveled to Israel yesterday with his wife and children and a group of teens.
When asked “Are you sure you want to be going to Israel now?” he answered “Why? Is there a better or more important time?”
This morning, he sent us an email announcing that they had arrived in Israel. He wrote “We’re all in high spirits. Jerusalem is as beautiful as ever. We feel safe and secure in the land in which ‘Gd’s eyes are from the beginning of the year until the end.'”
Elaine Rosenberg Miller is a poetess but sustains herself and family as a highly respected practicing attorney and political activist in Palm Beach, FL