“From all of the communities that I have seen in the world, there is not one that can compare to the Syrian community.”
As the voice of Rabbi Yonah Metzger, Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, echoed throughout the Monmouth University stadium, I surveyed the breathtaking scene taking place around me. Just one week before the fast of Tisha B’Av, the day which commemorates the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash due to the baseless hatred and lack of camaraderie amongst the Jewish people, hundreds of people had come together to raise the level of peace and harmony among Jews. I contemplated the fact that friction and disunity were the cause of our nation’s exile and ongoing suffering for the past two millennia, but the love and friendship that permeated the air on that July afternoon made me feel that our national wounds had begun to mend. At that moment, the differences between those people who stood together with me became unimportant; all I could see were our similarities and how we stood together. And I knew that the unity that we displayed on that day had brought us one step closer to the arrival of Mashiah. It was a moment I made sure to capture in my mind and permanently engrave upon my memory.
It was with great excitement and anticipation that I attended the second annual Day of Prayer and CommUNITY on July 22nd. As I made my way toward the magnificent brick building in the center of the Monmouth Universitycampus, I saw throngs of community rabbis, leaders and members of all ages and backgrounds eagerly flocking toward its doors. I excitedly dashed toward the entrance, sprinted up the stairs and was greeted by an usher just before I crossed the threshold into the ladies section. I was handed a beautifully prepared prayer booklet and directed towards my seat. When I sat down, I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized that I had made it just in time for the recitation of Tehillim, the holy words composed by David HaMelech millennia ago.
The words I chanted were familiar, but the experience was something entirely different. I felt elevated by the realization that my prayers were rising toward the heavens along with the prayers of the great rabbis and people who sat in the room with me. Then the shofar was blown, and I felt myself tremble slightly as I considered that the High Holidays were just eight short weeks away. The melodious voices of the community hazanim sang the stirring words of Selihot, and the familiar tunes put me in a state of inspiration. As the prayer was completed, the room was filled with silence as Chief Rabbi Shaul Kassin’s voice resounded through the stadium. Then, all eyes focused on the colossal screen that began to play a video prepared especially for our community by three of the great rabbinical leaders of our generation.
“The honor that the Syrian-Jewish people bestow upon the Torah and its scholars is unparalleled,” Rabbi Yona Metzger announced with a smile on his face. “Remember, we are a unit, and a people who follow one tradition. Treat your fellow Jew with respect and love him as you would love yourself. In this merit, Hashem will bless you a thousand fold.”
Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Shlomo Amar spoke passionately about the need for love and unity. “In this generation, we continue to live with the baseless hatred that was the cause of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash. How long will we continue with this nonsense and madness? Every person who is conscious to act with kindness towards his fellow will influence others to follow suit. When you leave this gathering, wake up and take upon yourselves not to become embroiled in fighting and hatred.” He ended by saying that “peace is the only vessel that holds blessing, and when you become involved in creating peace, Hashem will bless you with health, prosperity and abundance.”
Hacham Ovadiah Yosef reminded the congregation that “Torah is a tree of life for all those who hold onto it” and “when individuals gather for the sake of Heaven, their goal will be fulfilled.” The glow of Torah shone on the faces of these gedolim (Torah luminaries), and the privilege to gaze at their faces ignited the spark within my soul.
Mr. Felix Torgueman led the assembly in the recitation of the Minha and Arbit prayers. The sight of so many people standing together in prayer was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It felt as though the room shook during the crowd’s responses of “amen” to Kaddish (the mourner’s prayer).
This experience left an indelible impression upon my heart, and I am confident that it made a profound impact in the heavens, as well. I felt most fortunate to have been a part of such a beautiful community event. As I exited the building and saw the sun beginning to set, I knew that as a community we have made great strides. I looked around at the people next to me and I felt deeply grateful to have a place in a community like ours.