It is commonly thought that the ultra-orthodox community in Israel lives in a closed and sealed bubble, and does not take an interest in matters that do not directly relate to it.
Apparently, however, members of the community in Bnei Brak and Mea Shearim are fearful for the fate of the Jewish people and the state of Israel, and are not only fearful of god.
In the past two weeks, since hostilities began in the north, the community has been conducting special prayers for the abducted soldiers, IDF fighters and for the citizens of the northen communities.
"More than 50 years ago the ultra-orthodox community said 'you fight and we'll pray'", said a staff member at the prime minister's office this week, who is also a close aid of the former prime minister Ariel Sharon.
Reading Tehilim (Photo: Chaim Tazch)
"It's true that they were always criticized about this, but on the other hand, they really do stand by their part of the agreement. They don't try to dodge the commitment they took upon themselves. Ultra-orthodox worshippers pray because they truly believe that that's what will help, and perhaps we need someone to do it."
72 hours of Psalms
Anyone walking by Mea Shearim's central synagogue this week would have had to rub his eyes in disbelief. Hundreds of the quarter's inhabitants prayed for 72 consecutive hours in shifts changing every two hours. The shifts included men and women who came to read Psalms for the "sake of the people of Israel."
The Jerusalemite quarter is considered to be the stronghold of the ultra-orthodox community, and it is where members of the most extreme sects of the orthodox community, who are opposed to the Israeli government, reside.
Without prior notice a vehicle sounding psalms on a loudspeaker stopped at the Etnura square in Bnei Brak Thursday. An eye witness at the scene said hundreds of the city's inhabitants stopped to take part. Prayers and other rallies were also conducted throughout the country as well as in countries such as Antwerp, Belgium and in Gateshead, England.
Celebration in Miron (Photo: Hagai Aharon)
Members of an orthodox organization tried to maintain ongoing Gemara studies in dozens of synagogues throughout the north of the country, conducting lessons in the bomb shelters. The organization's coordinators touring the north tried to address the influx of requests for study kits. Requests also came from the IDF.
It's no holiday, we have to study Torah
On Saturday evening two weeks ago, on the day a grandmother and her grandson from the Miron settlement were killed by rockets fired into Tiberias for the first time, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef came to give his weekly sermon at the Yizdim synagogue in the Bukhara quarter in Jerusalem. He was accompanied by the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Amar.
At the end of the sermon Rabbi Yosef prayed for the IDF soldiers, blessed the abducted soldiers and asked that they be returned safely, he prayed for the wellbeing of the citizens of the north and of the southern city of Sderot. He also asked those present to begin saying morning and afternoon prayers as well as a special prayer said during the ten days of repentance.
On Tuesday of this week, the eve of the month of Av, Rabbi Yosef announced the holding of a rally at the Western Wall, and modified the prayer marking "difficult times." More than ten thousand people attended the rally; they read psalms and prayers along with the kabbalist rabbis.
In the world of orthodox Yeshivas it is common to take a three week vacation commencing from the end of Tu Be'av until the beginning of the month of Elul. However, Rabbi Yosef told the congregation at the payer rally that there will be no vacations this year.
"We're all experiencing these troubled times, so what's a vacation? We have to study the Torah. With the help of the Torah God will save us. We have to strengthen those who are risking their lives," said the rabbi.
There's nowhere to go
The Rabbi of Braslev in Safed, Eliezer Kenig, arrived on the evening prior to the rally. He came with dozens of his students who had remained in the city, in order to pray at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Miron. Generally, at the beginning of each month, hundreds of worshippers, if not more, flock to the area. This week, only a few dozen arrived.
Rabbi Kenig sent the young boys from his yeshiva to study at the Braslev Yeshiva in Beni Brak, but he himself decided to remain in the city along with the 40 families of his yeshiva students.
"Where can we go? Several of our students joined their parents in Haifa and Carmiel, but the rockets fell there too. If we flee, will they stop firing the rockets? We have to stay put and pray that God will protect us, and yes we'll stay and prevail, thanks to our faith. These words were written thousands of years ago, not today."
Rabbi Kenig abides by a classic religious faith. He is of the opinion that "this war has come to awaken us, to remind us that we must become stronger and believe that the State of Israel is the only place for the Jewish people. Even if we ask the non-Jewish populations they too will agree that the state of Israel is our home."
According to Rabbi Kenig, this awakening applies to all sectors of the Jewish people. "We are seeing that it doesn't matter these days who is secular and who is orthodox. We are one people and there are no differences between us. The people of Israel are a unique people that are able reveal their quality from within, as well as the reason for their united existence here in the land of Israel.
Perhaps what we need is unity
For the past two weeks 25 volunteers from Megan David Adoms's orthodox volunteer organization have been manning four stations in Safed, Hatzor Haglilit, Tiberias and Avivim. They sent the women and children to Kibbutz Hafetz Haim to the south of Gedera, so that they could dedicate themselves entirely to their work and the evacuation of wounded civilians and soldiers in the north.
"The contact with the forces who are risking their lives for us," says one of the volunteers Nachman Klien, "strengthens the unity among the Jewish people. I evacuated several soldiers from the area, and it wasn't easy.
"One of my friends evacuated the regiment commander who was wounded during the fighting. He told us that while the soldier was being evacuated, he called to leave instructions before being admitted into hospital, despite his multiple wounds and the severe pain he was in. These are things that give a lot of strength, knowing that our soldiers are strong people and we trust them and believe that with the help of god they will get the job done."
Klein talked about dozens of benevolent organizations who came to the north over the past two weeks, bringing food to those in the shelters or hosting families. "The volunteers keep running from one place to another. During the weekend they give out hot Shabbat meals to those who have remained behind. This unity, the good deeds and charity is perhaps what's really missing."
From the Magen David Adom station in Safed Klein hopes that the situations encountered will be remembered.
"When a woman who is in a shelter can't leave her home because she is afraid, her husband has been recruited into the army, plus she has no food for her baby, suddenly encounters a volunteer from an orthodox organization, one she has never heard of before, and he brings her what she needs, she won't forget him for the rest of her life.
"Even when the war is over, the warmth created between the different groups will show that it is possible to work together. The war has been forced upon us, so instead of fighting we should unite, that will be making the most of the situation."