1,400 candles are lit in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem in honor of the victims of Hamas's Oct. 7 massacre, Nov. 6, 2023. Courtesy: Western Wall Heritage Foundation.
1,400 candles are lit in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem in honor of the victims of Hamas's Oct. 7 massacre, Nov. 6, 2023. Courtesy: Western Wall Heritage Foundation.
featureIsrael at War

Thirty days, 85 years

Mourning and commemorating.

This week marked 30 days since the Oct. 7 massacre.

Jews traditionally divide mourning into three stages—one week of shiva, 30 days, known as shloshim, and one year, marking the end of the formal grieving period. The idea is that the intensity of the mourning is supposed to ease with the passage of time.

It was difficult to see evidence of any such easing at the main shloshim ceremony that took place at the Western Wall on Monday evening. Hundreds of mourners took their seats in the plaza, some carrying photos of their loved ones, some hugging kids close, others quietly weeping as Rabbi Eitan Eizman, whose two grandsons died fighting off the terrorists, read from Psalms. 

Relatives of the dead, some themselves survivors of the Oct.7 terror, rose to light the 1,400 yahrzeit candles placed behind a newly erected monument in the plaza. Several people ran their fingers over the plaque inscribed with the names of the murdered. 

IDF Brig. Gen. Dedi Simchi, a former Fire and Rescue commissioner and head of the military’s Home Front Command, recited the ancient kaddish prayer for his son Guy, who was killed during Hamas’s assault on the Supernova music festival near Kibbutz Re’im, and on behalf of the hundreds of other bereaved families.

As the ceremony drew to a close, many in the assembly walked up to stare at the long rows of candles, still trying after a month to absorb the enormity of the tragedy.  

Orthodox Jewish performance artist Yaakov Shwekey sang the ancient words from the Passover Haggadah: “And it is this [the Torah] that has stood by our ancestors and for us. For not only one [enemy] has risen up to destroy us, but in every generation they rise up to destroy us.”

There’s a lot of talk among Jews these days about intergenerational trauma. How the horrors experienced by our parents and grandparents affect us. Even before this war, every Israeli—apart from perhaps a handful of young immigrants from Western countries—could tell you the pogrom, Farhud, expulsion or concentration-camp experience that resulted in their ancestors arriving in Israel.

Today, after Oct. 7, every Israeli feels the weight of his own trauma, in addition to that of previous generations, as we grieve and mourn and try to figure out how to live with the threat of neighbors calling for our annihilation.

But after a month, a strange new normal has set in. At Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market, many shops are closed, due to the massive call-up of military reservists, the dearth of tourists and a subdued public only now beginning to try to pick up the pieces of normal activities.

The displays of Chanukah toys and sufganiyot are reminders that the holiday that represents the transformation of darkness into light is coming in three weeks.

On Ben Yehuda Street, there’s none of the usual exuberance of yeshivah kids from abroad cramming the ice cream and pizza shops. McDonald’s is closed, as are many of the other stores on the street. Anyone with a small business or in the tourist industry is struggling. Those hardest hit are businesses in the many locations in the north and south that have been evacuated.

Some, like a bakery in Ashkelon, countless farmers and flower growers, have been able to bring their products to outdoor spaces in the safer places in the country, where they’re eagerly snapped up by the rest of us who are anxious to help in whatever way possible.

The last week has brought a trickle of volunteers from abroad, who bring both moral support and the extra hands needed to fill the space left by the foreign workers who fled at the beginning of the war.

Behind every activity, there’s the undercurrent of anxiety and concern for the fate of the hostages and for the inevitable death toll of soldiers and security personnel on the front lines. Almost every day brings new obituaries of young heroes who have taken upon themselves the responsibility of defending us and defeating the enemy. The IDF has released the names of 348 soldiers who have died since Oct. 7, including more than 30 who were killed in battle. 

Despite their best efforts, there’s still an almost nightly barrage of rockets directed at the Tel Aviv and central Israel region. Hundreds of thousands of people have been under fire for more than four weeks. Maybe people like former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who visited this week, will be able to transmit that reality, which the world media seems reluctant to publicize. 

This week is also the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night the Nazis unleashed a pogrom that killed 91 Jews, destroyed 1,400 synagogues and sent 30,000 Jews, including my father, to concentration camps.

Eighty-five years later, world Jewry commemorates and mourns on this day. Thirty days after Oct. 7, we can only speculate as to how this tragedy will affect our collective consciousness.

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