After the Tragedy:

Local Jewish figures attempt to verbalize reaction

By Susie Davidson


The terrible events of last week have rendered many of us lost for words if not literally speechless, unable to articulate our varied and intense emotions.

Yet this is a time when the thoughts and words of others can be of great help as we attempt to somehow make sense in our daily lives and to move on, albeit in a totally changed world.

For some Brookline residents, the added considerations of being Bostonian, given the Logan connection, and Jewish, with Israel of likely significance in a terrorist agenda, can weigh even more heavily. With the risk of anti-Muslim backlashes a sad reality, Jews may also feel an increased vulnerability. Indeed, all innocent, peaceful people of good will can no longer necessarily feel secure in the wake of this tragedy.

Occurring one week before the Jewish New Year, which began this Monday evening, this appears to be a time of diminished if nonexistent celebrating for most Jews, of somber reflection and yet, of affirmation of sound principles of hope and faith.

"I, like so many other people, am in shock", says Rabbi Sanford Seltzer of Ohabei Shalom at 1187 Beacon St. "It is hard to believe even now that this has happened."

"But despite it all," he maintains, "I know that the spirit of the American people has not weakened. The fabric of our democracy remains firm and we, as Americans and as Jews, will simply rededicate ourselves to the principles that have made this country the beacon of light it has always been to the world."

"It didn't hit me," says Allen Gellerman of Rubin's Kosher Delicatessen and Restaurant at 500 Harvard St., "until I started getting calls for shiva (memorial) platters. Neighbors of people who were on the plane were ordering them. Daniel Lewin ate here. Richard Ross, especially, ate here all the time."

"He was a gentleman," he adds, poignantly.

"Words couldn't fit my reaction," he continues, "at seeing fighter jets flying over my restaurant. I felt like I was watching a James Bond movie."

"My reactions are changing daily," says Rabbi Moshe Waldocks of Temple Beth Zion at 1566 Beacon St., "as are most peoples'.

"The challenge I'm feeling is to avoid falling into despair. This week, as our community will gather to celebrate the beginning of the New Year, we will recommit ourselves to life and to the strength that we need to carry on."

Debbie Kram, Brookline resident and director of Ma'ayan: Torah Studies Initiative for Women, is resolute. "Though my heart is heavy with grief and despair, my mind strains to hold on to the hope of good triumphing over evil. I struggle against feeling overcome with helplessness, determined to play whatever role I can in support of a free society."

"I'm horrified and stunned," laments Lev Friedman of Kolbo Fine Judaica on 437 Harvard St. "I've found it difficult to focus on things. My mind keeps wandering back to those images."

"We had a healing service on Sept. 13," says Rabbi William Hamilton of Kehillath Israel on 384 Harvard St. "It was a time to mourn and a time to weep."

"Often," he mused, "people ask how the children are assimilating the news. My sense here is that it is adults who are having more difficulty than kids."

For Shimshon Erenfeld, President of Bler Travel on 419 Harvard St., business was halted. "All of our customers are in shock," he said this past Thursday. "Some have plans and must get to places. We don't even know when flights will resume. Flights from Canada to Europe are filled until the 20th of the month.

"One man can't even get to his own wedding!"

The situation in Israel was an apt analogy for the respondents. "We can all," reflects Seltzer, "now perhaps better understand what the people of Israel go through on a daily basis, and whatever its imperfections, which are real, Israel remains the only democracy in the Middle East."

"My father, a Holocaust survivor, was in the Israeli army," says Gellerman. "I have employees from Israel. I finally understand what living with this kind of fear is like. Hitler doesn't exist anymore, but he does in a different face."

But Seltzer diminishes Israel's role in the tragedy. "The hatred of America," he feels, "has really less to do with the state of Israel than with a very special kind of fanatical hatred of everything Western. It stems from a violent opposition to human rights, including women's rights, the rights of privacy, the right to be different, freedom of expression - all of which apparently run counter to the kind of absolute regime these people would like to impose."