Finding joy in the face of tragedy
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Local rabbis share importance of celebrating simchas during turmoil in Israel

By Rachel Tucker

Jews are no stranger to tragedy and difficult times and yet, always find a way to prevail. This is no different today.

Through the grief and tragedy in Israel, it’s important to celebrate simchas as a way to unite and show solidarity.

During his remarks at a recent bar mitzvah, Rabbi Ariel Rackovsky of Congregation Shaare Tefilla discussed the importance of Jews’ relationship to Israel and how to be an advocate.

“What is happening in Israel needs to be acknowledged in speeches and through tzedakah projects,” he said. “For every kid celebrating outside of Israel, there is another kid that cannot have the kind of celebration they wanted in Israel.”

He noted that while not every simcha may look the same, there are ways to acknowledge tragedy and celebrate joy.

“It’s important to affirm life when there is glorification of death from our enemies and we need to do whatever we can to celebrate life,” Rackovsky said.

Since the attacks in Israel, Rabbi Ari Sunshine of Congregation Shearith Israel has officiated b’nai mitzvah and a wedding. He said it’s important to address what is happening in Israel, even if it’s not weaved into the entire celebration.

“The dad of the bat mitzvah reached out to me and said they wanted to sing ‘Hatikvah’ during the service,” Sunshine said. “This shows that even with this great joy, we need to know what’s going on in Israel and hold that in our hearts.”

His advice for families during this time: Try and carve out a moment to acknowledge the pain we are feeling.

“When we are struggling and feeling pain, celebration gives us strength,” he added. “It may be hard to get fully in that space, but if we can get there, the celebration gives us that uplift and strength to move forward and show us how to respond as members of Am Yisrael.”

At wedding ceremonies, couples can also acknowledge Israel. One important tradition is breaking the glass at the end of the ceremony, which symbolizes fragility and brokenness.

Rabbi Kimberly Herzog Cohen of Temple Emanu-El said this moment is an opportunity to recognize our grief over the loss of innocent lives, the suffering of hostages, as well as our hope for return, repair and peace.

“It’s natural to feel guilty celebrating at such a time, but embracing our Jewishness in lifecycle moments and every day, is part of the fight against terror,” she said. “We can acknowledge the loss and grief amidst the joy in authentic ways, already embedded in the liturgy and rituals.”

Herzog Cohen added a bar or bat mitzvah is an opportunity for a young person to lead and teach. She said she would include prayers for Israel and a mention of our Israeli connection within the healing prayer.

Uniting as a community is also an important way for Jews around the world to heal, she added. 

“Gathering of all kinds is really important, especially now, we need to be together,” Herzog Cohen said. “We always want to show our b’nai mitzvah students and wedding couples that they are never alone as they begin a new stage of their lives. Showing up, as shattered as we may feel, is a way to affirm the connections that enable us to heal and thrive.”

Rabbi Brian Zimmerman of Congregation Beth-El in Fort Worth added that although this trauma won’t go anytime soon, we must continue to move forward while holding Israel in our hearts.

“The living must continue living, even though grieving is a part of living,” he said. “As we step on a glass at the end of a wedding, it is also a reminder that in moments of joy, there is still brokenness. Of course, this tragedy is so much greater at this moment, but this is still a model for living our lives in two emotional places at once.”

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