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* This article first appeared in The Times Herald-Record on September 17, 2001. Used by permission.



September 17, 2001

Prayers for victims, freedom on Days of Awe

By Oliver Mackson
The Times Herald-Record

Jews call them the Days of Awe.
The new year, Rosh Hashana, begins at sundown today. For 10 days, Jews will search their souls and take stock of the year's deeds until they break the day-long fast of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.
For words to describe the hurt Jews feel now, with so many dead in the United States and so much talk of war, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld of Monroe reached back 2,000 years. He recounted a story from the days of the Roman conquest of Israel, when the second Jewish temple was sacked and burned.
The story goes that four rabbis were walking near Jerusalem when they came upon some Roman soldiers, carousing amid the ruins.
Three of the rabbis cried, wailed and tore at their clothing, as if in mourning.
The fourth, Rabbi Akiva, laughed.
"Why are you laughing?" the other three rabbis asked.
"Why are you crying?" asked Rabbi Akiva.
The three explained that they were grieving over the loss of the temple, anguished over its defilement by the Romans.
And that, said Rabbi Akiva, was precisely why he was laughing. Because if defiling a holy place was to be the greatest reward for those who revel in evil deeds, imagine how much sweeter the reward would be for the righteous.
Kligfeld repeats the story because, he says, "The Jewish response to tragedy has always been hope." He was mindful of the fact that the brother of one of Congregation Eitz Chaim's members was missing after the World Trade Center was attacked and destroyed on Tuesday.
The following day, Congregation Eitz Chaim and the Monroe Temple of Liberal Judaism held a special joint service. Both synagogues are located in Monroe. Three hundred people attended. For inspiration, Kligfeld went deep into the Old Testament, where there are narratives of epic calamities: The enslavement of the Jews; the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians, the second temple by the Romans. In some synagogues, there'll be discussion of, and readings about, the Holocaust.
"There were no words inspired just by humans that could make sense of this," Kligfeld said of Tuesday's attacks. "I used words that, in my mind, were inspired by God, to be able to give some meaning to the aftermath of this destruction."
Kligfeld think he faces the same challenge rabbis all over the world will face during this year's Days of Awe.
"The sermons we had written seemed trite and insignificant in the face of what we see now," said Kligfield, who was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan. "I think you're going to see a lot of synagogues giving a lot of room to people to express themselves, both from the pulpit and out in the open. I'm also expecting emotions in the synagogue to be very different than they (usually) are on the high holidays."
For Rabbi Jonathan Levine Grater of Kingston's Congregation Ahavath Israel, the events of last week will resonate in the liturgy of the High Holy Days.
"The liturgy of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is really about life and death, and the heart of the service is about who will live and who will die," Grater said. "I think everyone, this year, will feel the profundity of those words. None of those people who tragically were killed, I don't think, thought they were going to die on Tuesday. I think Jews are in an incredible amount of pain right now, because of what's happening in Israel, and now that pain has been transferred right across the sea."
Jeff Berkman of Middletown has been caught up in the whirlwind of last week's events. He's an Orange County legislator, and the county was in a state of emergency Tuesday. Berkman has made several trips to Israel. And he's a husband and a father.
"The Jewish tradition is that you're written into the book of life this year or not. It'll be on my mind who is written in the Book of Life has more meaning this year than it has in previous years. You pray that your loved ones won't be subject to danger.
"On the high holidays, I'll pray for peace in America and the world. I'll pray for effective self-defense. I'll pray for America to maintain her freedom, and our equilibrium. We have to be strong, and of good courage."
Said Ann Proyect of Woodridge, "God gave us a mind and a soul to think, to help repair the world. [In Hebrew] it is called tikkun olam.
"It is up to us on this world to do."


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