By Larry Gordon
As the manhunt for the remaining terrorist in Boston last week rolled into last Friday just about every shul in the city and the surrounding communities notified their membership that their shuls, that week, would be closed for Shabbos.
In fact after conferring with the police department brass in his capacity as the Chaplain of The City of Boston, The Rebbe, Grand Rabbi Y. A. Korff has issued the following statement:
“Boston law enforcement authorities still have some hope that the lockdown will be lifted prior to the start of Shabbos. However, the situation is still extremely fluid and nothing is definite at this time, so with Shabbos approaching that hope is dwindling and becomes less likely to happen. (The lockdown was lifted about 90 minutes befor the onset of Shabbos).
In the absence of the lifting of the lockdown, and with a known, identified, dangerous, active and heavily-armed terrorist in the area, law enforcement officials instruct that everyone should absolutely remain at home, both for their own safety and to keep public areas clear and allow full exclusive access for law enforcement officers and operations which may suddenly shift location without warning.
This is definitely an issue of sakonas nefoshos, and halachah requires us to protect lives and not endanger our lives above other mitzvos. However, your own Rov should be consulted for your individual case and shul, and Rabbonim are asked to contact their local police precinct for direction and instruction before deciding for their particular shul and congregants.
May the Kodosh Boruch Hu shelter, guide and protect us and our entire community during Shabbos and the coming days.”
It was clearly a new, unprecedented as well as unusual situation to be in. Tragedy had struck a few days earlier on Monday as bombs were detonated near the finish line of the internationally renowned Boston Marathon. As Rabbi Korff describes the marathon, it is a 26.2 mile target in Boston which is a relatively small but very open city.
There was no indication or suspicion or even a warning that anything of this nature was about to take place. Usually the intelligence services of the police departments in major cities like these pick up hints from talkative friends of the would- be terrorists or from phone or internet chatter. But this time there was nothing.
Rabbi Korff, the Zvhill—Mezibuz Rebbe is the one Jewish leader that is in constant close contact with both the police and fire department in the city. We spoke on Monday evening of this week about how he learned what had happened downtown and how he, as the chaplain of both the police and fire department would be involved as events unfolded that day.
He says that there is a daily 1:50pm Mincha minyan in his office which also serves as the official office of the chaplain of the departments mentioned above. He says that usually following the Mincha service he has an opportunity to meet with a and speak with people seeking his advice and counsel for sometimes as much as an hour following the service.
He said it was following those meetings that he was in his car when he first received a call from the police department and then immediately after from the fire department. The messages were somewhat cryptic, something was happening near the finish line of the annual marathon. There have been explosions and there were mass casualties.
The Rabbi says that he activated the lights on his car and sounded the siren as he raced to the scene.
I don’t know if anyone of us in this long past and post 9-11 era can relate to this type of catastrophic event taking place near our homes. As far as it coming close to impacting on Jewish religious life, the closest recent thing that comes to my mind was this past autumn when shuls had to either conduct services in the dark, by candlelight or as the case that I experienced, extra early so that people could get home prior to darkness setting in during that first Shabbos when the lights were out around here during Hurricane Sandy.
Difficulty and even disaster—we should not know from any of it—-but it takes on a different and even unusual character once its existence begins to collide with the traditions and sacredness of Shabbos. I know a couple that lives in Boston that was planning on attending a Bar Mitzva in Lakewood this past Shabbos. They called their Rov, their parents and others to ask advice about what to do. The answer was simple and yet unremarkable—there’s a danger on the streets and on the roads. Sit tight, stay home and they of course did exactly that.
Rabbi Korf explains that when he arrived on the scene it was just horrific. “Nothing can prepare you for something like this unless you have served in a war zone. There was panic and the people that could walk around were just stunned,” he said. Fortunately, the Rabbi said, there was a well-equipped medical tent set up to deal with injured or dehydrated runners and the makeshift medical center was instantly turned into a battlefield like emergency room. More in this weeks 5TJT.