Our worst fears were confirmed Wednesday morning when we learned that the incident in nearby Jersey City that happened Tuesday afternoon was not random, rather a targeted act of hate and terror. Whenever a Jewish Institution and/or Kosher location is involved, its randomness is always suspect. Surveillance and smart police work proved the location and victims were indeed calculated.
On Wednesday night, I attended a communal vigil held at Temple Beth El in Jersey City. Shortly after, I traveled less than a mile from the Temple to the scene of the horrific crime at the JC Kosher Market and stood with the family of Leah Mindel Ferencz, the 34 year old mother of five who was inside the market and killed by the assailants.
The eulogizers included her heartbroken husband, the rabbi of her son’s school and the community rabbi in Jersey City. Her husband praised his doting and loving wife in a eulogy entirely in Yiddish and repeatedly referred to her as his Eyshes Chayil – his woman of valor –a romantic ballad usually sung by husbands to wives on Friday evening at the Shabbat table. Through tears, he cried out to his wife that their small daughter keeps asking “Where is Mommy? She doesn’t understand!” None of us can understand.
The head of the school, who was located a few feet away from the store (literally in the building next door) was in charge of keeping the children still and quiet so the terrorists would not hear their cry and target them. Young children learning were petrified. The headmaster’s job was to keep them silent and still. All of the kids and teachers are dealing with unimaginable Post Traumatic Stress. The rabbis are reeling in pain and in sadness as is the entire Jersey City community.
This coming Monday, I will be attending the wake for Detective Joseph Seals, making a shiva visit to the Ferencz home and visiting with Jersey City Police Officers who are grappling with the many emotions in the wake of Tuesday’s incidents. I will be sharing the condolences, love, and support of our entire congregation.
At the funeral, which was held at night in the street of what became a bitterly cold evening, I was one of the few who was not Hassidic/Satmar. I was not wearing a black hat nor a black long coat and I do not have Payos – sidelocks. Our outfits and kippot and even mother language was different (theirs Yiddish – mine English and Hebrew). Yet, we share DNA. We are brothers and sisters. Their tears and my tears tasted the same. We both were pained. In the eyes of the hater, we are both the Jew. In the eyes of the consoler at the vigil, we are both pained survivors of victims. As Leah Mindel’s son tore his clothes and said the requisite prayer – the same prayer I have shepherded countless members through when their relative had died – I was reminded of our shared heritage, language, liturgy, and peoplehood. We often mention our differences and highlight our challenges. Throughout history, however, Jews of a different stripe, faith, and dedication have been equally persecuted. Tuesday is another sad example.
When we read in Vayishlach the heartwarming story of Esau and Jacob hugging instead of hitting, holding in place of hating, we are buoyed by hope, love, and reconciliation in the place of bigotry, hatred, and intolerance.
May this moment from our Torah and from Jersey City awaken our commonalities and strengthen our stand against these vicious acts against our people – which are attacks on all humanity. May we realize our strength, our resolve, and our hope. May the memories of the dead all be for a blessing.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner