Amidst the Mourning, Faith and Hope Surive as OU Presents Memorial Service for Slain Students

14 Mar 2008


In an atmosphere of profound mourning, the radiance of faith and hope shone through as three distinguished rabbis led an Orthodox Union-sponsored memorial service for the victims of last week’s Mercaz HaRav yeshiva massacre. Held at the venerable and ornate Young Israel of Flatbush, an OU-member synagogue, as the seven-day shiva period for the dead was coming to a conclusion, the sanctuary was filled with more than 500 men and women as Rabbis Kenneth Auman, Dovid Goldwaser and Tzvi Hersh Weinreb delved into a variety of Jewish sources to shed light on the tragedy and what lessons should be learned.

The program in its entirety is available on the OU website,

Amidst the tragedy, there was hope, particularly with the call for achdut, or unity, among the Jewish people, and the belief expressed by all the rabbis that the calamity has served to bring Jews of differing beliefs together. “The terrorists don’t distinguish between types and brands of Jews and we shouldn’t as well,” declared Rabbi Auman, the spiritual leader of the host synagogue. Agreeing, Rabbi Goldwasser of the Khal Bais Yitzchok synagogue in Brooklyn said, “Hashem will lead us from this moment to geulah (redemption) and achdut.” And Rabbi Weinreb cited Rav Avraham Kook, the founder of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, by declaring, “No one in recent Jewish history preached achdut like Rabbi Kook.”

Rabbi Auman:

Each rabbi looked for signs of hope amid the carnage. Rabbi Auman told of his discussions with Rav Kaufman of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, a relative by marriage, who told him, “There were tremendous nissim (miracles) that night. Many more boys could have been killed,” and called on the gathering “to thank Hashem for all those who were saved.”

“The ability to find good in the midst of horror is typically Jewish, a sign of faith, to feel that HaKadosh Barchu (the Holy One, Blessed Be He) is with us and hasn’t abandoned us,” Rabbi Auman explained. “Even in the midst of tragedy, we have to appreciate the good we have.”

“If we reach out together as Jews, to create bonds of achdut, then some good may have been accomplished from this horror,” Rabbi Auman said.

Rabbi Goldwasser:

Rabbi Goldwasser, a charismatic teacher of Torah and a radio commentator, declared, “Such a tragedy compels us to do deeper thinking,” comparing the slaying of the bochrim, the students, to the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem. “When precious bochrim are taken off this world, no one would even imagine it,” he said, just as the destruction of each Temple, the Beit HaMikdash, was also unimaginable.

In the Torah, Moses refers to the Jews as a stiff-necked people, Rabbi Goldwasser said, but by this he meant that “in hard times we are strong and somehow we are able to make it through these stormy times. We have to come closer together. Let us pray that this is the last tragedy, that Israel will be secure.”

Jews must go out of their way to improve themselves he said, “to be better.” Citing a midrash of the Akeidah, in which each time Abraham freed the ram from the thicket to sacrifice it instead of Isaac the ram ran back and Abraham had to free it again until he was finally able to place it on the altar, Rabbi Goldwasser said, “Although Klal Yisrael will go through difficult times, the ram will go unscathed and will be offered up.” So too, the Jewish people will overcome their obstacle.

“We have to praise Hashem in the good times and the not-so-good times,” Rabbi Goldwasser urged. “We have to be strengthened. Individuals have to pick themselves up, to try to fill the major vacuum that was created.”

“Klal Yisrael sustained such a hit this week, but the Ribbono Shel Olom (Master of the Universe) will embrace all of us and wipe away the tears. Hashem will take us and lead us from this moment to redemption and unity.” Comparing the Jewish people to a young lion, he said, “We get up strong. We mechazaik (strengthen) each other. We’re going to be here from now on – for each other and for Klal Yisrael.”

Rabbi Weinreb:

Rabbi Weinreb took the gathering back to 1929, to a similar slaughter of students in the Hebron yeshiva, when Rav Kook, normally the most verbal of men, was so overwhelmed that he could not speak and could only collapse on the floor and recite “Baruch Dayan ha-Emet,” Blessed Be the Truthful Judge.”

With Purim approaching and the upcoming Shabbat being Parshat Zachor, the time to remember Amalek, the ages-old enemy of the Jews, Rabbi Weinreb declared that the slain boys “represented the antidote to Amalek. They represented Jewish unity. They represented hope.” Calling the boys “holy and pure,” he pointed out that in their studies they spanned the range of Jewish thought, thereby contributing to Jewish unity. “Eight powerful forces of Jewish unity were lost in a few minutes,” Rabbi Weinreb said.

Rabbi Weinreb committed himself to present “a brief mini-lesson of Rav Kook’s teachings,” on the OU website for the rest of the year, to help compensate for this loss and to help foster achdut.

He read a poem by Rav Kook about a lioness’ loss of her cubs. “We have lost eight lion cubs,” he said. “We must rise like a lioness. We have within each of us a soul as mighty as heaven.”

The program concluded with the Kel Malei Rachamim memorial prayer, which is recited at funerals and Yizkor. Always, there was faith and hope. Surely, this verse from Psalm 13, which was recited at the memorial, resonated with the congregation: “But as for me, I trust in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.