There is a song in Israel that plays on the radio, and when you hear it you instantly know something painful has happened. So said musician Eyal Rivlin on stage at Congregation Har HaShem Wednesday evening during a vigil for Israel, just before launching into the song, One Human Fabric.
The lyrics, in Hebrew, spread through a large hall crowded with people who were clinging to each other and their wads of tissue paper. It spread through the entryway overflowing with even more people, and then, with a three-second delay, through yet another room packed with people.
As of Thursday, at least 1,200 Israelis have been killed as a result of the attack on Israel by Hamas, which the U.S. designates as a terrorist organization. The Jewish population in Boulder is large, over 10,000 people, and the vigil was held to acknowledge and mourn the direct impact on much of that community.
Rabbis and others spoke on stage, in front of hundreds of people, framed by an intricate carving of the Tree of Life. Some with a tone of anger, others with soft notes of sadness, and all with a message that this is a time for the community to come together.
“There are times to persevere, look forward and push through, and there are times to pause and give space to grief and mourning,” Jonathan Lev, executive director of the Boulder JCC said, fighting back tears. “Tonight we do just that. There’s grief in our community. We’re mourning loss of friends and family. There’s grief of seeing what is happening, and what is going to happen.”
“Send a text, make a call, send a heart — or a broken heart.” Lev said.
Noa Greene, the daughter of Har HaShem Rabbi Fred Greene, read through tears a strongly worded message from her father who was out of town for the vigil.
“If people want to free the people of Gaza they must free them from Hamas,” she said.
Slivers of hope made it through a thick coat of shock and loss, but the trauma was made clear in the many stories.
A young woman, Omi Jaffe, told her story of leaving Colorado to become a lone soldier for the Israel Defense Forces. After a year away she returned to surprise her family, just before the attacks. She spoke, giving into a tearful quiver before swallowing it back, of her comrades who had been killed or were now missing.
“Although what is going on in the world is tough,” she told the crowd, “we are tougher.”
Another woman spoke of a friend, now missing, who was at a music festival where an estimated 260 people were murdered. More stories of loss trickled out. Social media posts with faces now gone forever. All of this compounded by the memories of a genocide still within living memory.
Eran Gil, an Israeli with gray stubble and piercing blue eyes who was at Wednesday’s vigil, said he returns to Israel every six to eight weeks for work and to visit family, his sister and her three kids, and his parents who were born before Israel became a state and have lived through many wars. Now they are living through another one.
Gil is the CEO of a company that launched in Tel Aviv and has 200 employees there; 13% of them are now on the frontlines, he said.
“These have been some of the worst days of my life,” he added.
Gil and some of the spiritual leaders who spoke at the vigil sought to make clear that the actions of Hamas were an act of brutality, not a matter of subjective interpretation.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re Palestinian, Israeli, Christian or Jew,” said Gil, who fought up close against Hezbollah and Hamas during his time in the IDF special forces. “It is not about politics or race. This was an act by an inhumane group of people.”
After prayers for those who wanted them and poetry for those who didn’t, the vigil ended with more music, arms clasped, swaying in harmony – including singing Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, whose name means The Hope.
“I haven’t taken a deep breath in five days,” said Rabbi Ori Har, spiritual director of the Conscious Learning Community. “Let’s all take a deep breath.”