This past week, Klal Yisrael shared a collective heartbreak and horror over the unfathomable events in Israel. In the midst of despair and uncertainty, Jews from around the world shed light on the power of unity. Tears of sorrow melded with tears of wonder at how quickly people mobilized to help in every way imaginable. In this new reality, deciding what step to take first was a challenge. At Emet, the first step was tefilah.
“My first thought after Yom Tov was the need for us to find comfort together through communal Tehillim for our brothers and sisters in Israel,” said Rabbi Akiva Rutenberg, Emet Outreach Co-Founder and Director. Emet immediately scheduled a Tehillim gathering on Zoom for 10:30 p.m. on October 8, and the team was stunned when over 1000 people attempted to sign on within minutes. They quickly increased their hosting capacity on the platform and have held Tehillim and words of chizuk every night since then. In the days following that first Tehillim session, the Emet family of rabbis, educators, students, and alumni participated in meaningful initiatives for prayer and unity on local college campuses and in the Queens community.
Emet was proud to join their students at impactful gatherings on campus. Now more than ever, Jewish college students are on the frontlines in the war against anti-Semitism. On October 11 at Queens College, the Emet Student Association, along with the Bukharian Culture Club and the Persian Club, organized an event to show solidarity with Israel. Students gathered on the quad to promote unity on campus. There was a moment of silence, followed by Tehillim and kadish as well as singing Hatikvah. Rabbi Reuven Kigel, Emet’s Campus Director and campus mekarvim Rabbi Ari Hertz and Rabbi Yakov Musheyev were on hand offering support to students. Later that night, the Jewish Student Association at St. John’s University held a candlelight vigil. Students linked arms in a circle, recited Tehillim and heard words of comfort from Rabbi Mordechai Kraft, Emet’s Co-Founder and Educational Director, who is also a respected professor of Jewish studies at St. John’s. As part of the dancing and singing, Emet’s Shlomo Mash, was featured prominently and sang an emotional rendition of “Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim.” Rabbi Hertz relayed, “It was beautiful to be at two events that were run by students for students from all different Jewish backgrounds. It helped me appreciate that we truly are all one on a far deeper level.”
In the Men’s Division, Torah study took on a higher purpose. At the Wednesday night TorahConnect program, the usual chavrusah learning culminated with Tehillim and words of chizuk from Rabbi Rutenberg and Rabbi Michael Fuzaylov. On motzaei Shabbos, October 14, the Women’s Division held a stirring “We Are One!” unity event and melava malka at Beth Gavriel. The event was spearheaded by Ms. Sharona Malakov, an Emet student leader. Rabbi Kraft opened the night with an inspiring drashah. The group then recited Tehillim and Mi Shebeirach for the soldiers. A heartfelt musical kumzitz followed, led by Esther and Daniella Bababekov. While the girls were singing, a video montage played that showed uplifting moments from the week. “I told the girls that when we see videos that demonstrate ‘Mi K’amcha Yisrael,’ it strengthens our emunah and bitachon in Hashem during this crisis,” said Ms. Adina Fendel, Women’s Division Director. “It was a moment for us to cry out to Hashem in unity and togetherness.”
Emet closed out this pivotal week on October 15, with an inspirational event for all students, alumni, and the community at the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates. Rabbi Benzion Klatzko uplifted the packed audience along with Rabbi Rutenberg and Rabbi Kraft. They shared messages on how to navigate these unprecedented times from a Torah perspective. There were especially poignant moments when an IDF soldier who served in the war in Lebanon spoke about the miracles he experienced at that time. The crowd was brought to tears when Shlomo Mash once again stood at the microphone and sang with all his heart.
Reflecting on Emet’s initial response, Rabbi Rutenberg said, “As this challenging time unfolds the Emet staff has continued to do what they do best, guiding and supporting our students on an individual basis. We are one family, and our personal relationships will see us through. When there are no words there are three words, ‘Am Yisrael Chai.’ We are praying in unison for Klal Yisrael for yeshuot and better times ahead.”