Hoshana Raba is one of the more important days of the Jewish calendar. This is the day when the decision rendered on Yom Kippur is signed. The left side of the picture above mirrors how the sanctuary of the Great Synagogue looked on Hoshana Rabba this year.
The city of Jerusalem was packed, the festival Sukkot was at its prime and people were dancing in the sanctuary of the Great Synagogue with the four species and many Torah scrolls. The worshipers were singing, and their voices were heard outside the building.
Simchat Torah started with a similar atmosphere. Dancing with Torah scrolls, singing Hallel with the synagogue’s choir, conducted by Raymond Goldstein, with Cantor Zvi Weiss leading an emotional service. Due to security protocol, several of the congregants had their telephones with them in case of emergency. Rumors started circulating in the Synagogue very early in the morning, but nothing was clear. At about 8:45, the siren sounded in Jerusalem for the first time. One of the leaders of the Synagogue consulted his phone for emergency protocols, and stopped the services, inviting the congregants to proceed to the safe rooms adjacent to the ladies' gallery. This phenomenon repeated itself three times. Just before calling up the Chatanim, the leaders of the community were informed that the situation in Gaza might spread to the Old City and were instructed to conclude the services promptly. The Great Synagogue, being the major religious center, could have been a prime target for those who wished to demoralize Jews in Israel and around the world. The service was promptly terminated, and the congregants walked home to safety.
During the day, the catastrophic news was brought to light. Immediately following the ending of Shabbat, the Synagogue converted itself to an emergency unit, concentrating its effort in gathering goods and gear for soldiers in the South and catering to the needs of Israelis who lost their homes. During the course of the weeks that followed, residents of the North and South were relocated also to various residents in Jerusalem, and the Synagogue hosted them and met their needs.
All such emergency work was coordinated by Rebbetzin D. Korff, who dedicates her days and nights, together with others and volunteers from the community.
During the course of the first week, one of the first projects was financed by Dr. OS and Susie Hawkins from Dallas, Texas. Dr. and Mrs. Hawkins are leaders of their community, both of them author books that are distributed worldwide. Dr. and Mrs. Hawkins have led their community preaching Zionism and support both to the State of Israel and to the Jewish people around the world. Coordinated by the leadership of the Synagogue, Dr. and Mrs. Hawkins financed the airline tickets of Israeli officers who are studying overseas but insisted on joining their units in Gaza.
A moving incident was of an officer in Golani who studies at the University of Cambridge. The Synagogue flew him to Israel in order for him to be in a unit. With coordination with his commanders, we made sure he flew back for the weekend to Cambridge just to celebrate his own son’s Bar Mitzvah on Shabbat. The following Sunday, this officer was back with his unit in Israel.
Rebbetzin Korff, joined by David Barda, and other members of the community, coordinated the purchasing, collecting, sorting, and sending of tremendous amounts of goods and food to the soldiers.
The president of the Great Synagogue, Malcolm Hoenlein, who was in Israel more than once during the war so far, spent his time visiting the wounded soldiers, the units in the fronts, and coordinating aide to the various Kibbutzim and towns in the South and who is now fighting Israel’s public relations war tirelessly all over the world.
Pastor and Mrs. John Hagee, of San Antonio, Texas, are determined, and loud supporters of both the Jewish people and the State of Israel. They visit Israel frequently too, and their gracious donations bring us all pride. This in addition to Dr. Hagee’s clear message to his hundreds of millions of followers worldwide. Pastor and Mrs. Hagee are close friends and associates of Malcolm Hoenlein. Malcolm, has coordinated major donations by Dr. and Mrs. Hagee to the emergency fund of the Great Synagogue in order to enable the Synagogue to meet the requirements of the needy and support the soldiers and security personnel.
The goods and services provided by the Great Synagogue during the war thus far, have impacted all sects of society. Below is a translation of the message attached that was sent to Rebbetzin Korff.
Good evening, and good week, I wanted to give a huge thank you, for all your donations with a large heart, both for the paper goods and baby formula, diapers, and food in vast quantities. You have made for us a stunning Shabbat, how blessed we are. I don’t know how our Shabbat would have looked without your donation. Indeed, with a large heart, my children, and all families asked who arranged this? Just stunning and moving. I am so happy to see people we don’t even know, and we don’t even know you. It warms the heart that even in this tense time, far away from our warm corner, we still feel warmth that we are covered with. It is so enjoyable. I want to thank you, from all of us, and I would like to tell you that you have moved us and made us very happy. May you all only have good and may G-d repay you only good and anything good. May we also be able to give. And may you have only the best in the world and have only good tidings.
Those who were forced to leave their homes and are now in Jerusalem joined the Great Synagogue for their services on Shabbat and are hosted for Shabbat lunches in the Synagogue.
A beautiful anecdote occurred on one of these Shabbatot.
One of the congregant’s son was the deputy commander of the Nachal commando unit until a number of weeks ago. As usually happens in the army, his commander was one of his best friends. The commander was tragically killed on the 7th of October fighting the terrorists who came in from Gaza. On that Shabbat, the whole Moshav in the South where this commander’s family lives came to the Synagogue. Their Rabbi approached the congregant and asked him to offer an honor to one of the guests as he just got up from Shiva for his son. He told the congregant who the father of the fallen officer was. The congregant, stunned, walked over to the father and gave him the highest honor of the Shabbat service, the Maftir, and introduced himself to the boy’s father and his other sons. Emotions were high, and everyone was sobbing. The father walked down from the Bima and approached the congregant asking if the Cantor would sing a memorial service for his son. The congregant refused and said, “Only I will do that for my son’s commander and best friend”. The congregant went up to the Bima but broke down in tears. Only with the help of the commander’s father, who went back to the Bima to support the congregant, did he conclude the prayer.
Under the patronage of Rebbetzin Korff, the Synagogue has been arranging massive barbeques for those units who withdrew from the battle for rest and additional training. A large platoon of soldiers benefited two weeks ago, and we plan on having these barbeques for the duration of the war.
A lone soldier from France was supposed to get married in the Great Synagogue on Sunday, November 12. The whole family originally came to Israel to celebrate their son’s wedding. Tragically, four days before his wedding, he was killed in Gazza. On Friday morning, leaders of the Synagogue paid a Shiva call to the family and the family decided to join the Synagogue for Friday night services. As customary, the family entered the synagogue during the course of the service. The entire community stopped praying and stood silently while a large group of people, mourning instead of celebrating, found their seats. The Kaddish that was heard that Friday night was mesmerizing. As one of the members of the community stated from the pulpit, “Instead of dancing facing a soldier, we marched behind him to his final resting place”.
The Synagogue has become a center for a lot of emergency activities, and we intend to continue for the duration of the war and many months after until the families who were ruined emotionally and financially are back on their feet.
An emotional event in the Synagogue was a special service held in honor of the people kidnapped from Israel. We urge you to watch the service. The two cantors of the Great Synagogue, Avremi Kirshenbaum and Zvi Weiss, joined by the Jerusalem Great Synagogue Choir, conducted by Elli Jaffe led the service. The synagogue was empty. The front seats were occupied by photographs of each and every person who was kidnapped.
As tradition required, one of our volunteers, Maya Kay, who volunteers in so many emergency activities of the Synagogue, arranged a “Challah Bake” in the Synagogue featuring the well-known, Netflix star, Mrs. Aliza Ben Shalom. With over one hundred participants, the moving ceremony lifted the spirits of the congregation. Our Instagram profile has a special video showing how unique this event was.
We are ever so grateful to all of those who helped the Synagogue in these dire times by supporting the emergency fund that the Great Synagogue is established which is dedicated to the war efforts and its aftermath.
We hope you will share in our efforts and enable us to continue and enhance our activities.
Pictures from our supply collecting efforts with volunteers at the Great Synagogue