HAIFA, Israeli — When bad things happen to good people, the faithful, like others, strain to find meaning behind the tragedy. And so, religious Jews in Israel turned to scripture for comfort in the hours following Tuesday’s horrific massacre of four rabbis and a policeman at a Jerusalem synagogue.
“We constantly try to look to God and say, ‘God, why? Why? This is such a horrible thing,” Rabbi Avi Berman, executive director of the Orthodox Union’s Israel office, told TheBlaze Wednesday. “It comes down to: If they try to put out light we have to make more light.”
“We bring more light by helping others ... by bringing more Torah values to the world, by connecting to God in a more spiritual way,” Berman said in a phone call from his Jerusalem office.
Dozens rose before dawn on Wednesday to participate in a morning worship at the very same prayer service in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood where the four devout Jews – three of whom were U.S. citizens — were brutally murdered the day before. On Wednesday, the synagogue had one thing it didn’t have 24 hours earlier: two armed guards.
The son of one of the victims said he was comforted by the knowledge of what his father was in the middle of when he was killed.
Meshulam Twersky, the son of Rabbi Mosheh Twersky, originally from Boston, said at the funeral Tuesday that his one solace was that his father died while he was praying.
Among the worshippers Wednesday morning was Akiva Pollack, a paramedic who got the call to rush to the scene when two Palestinians wielding meat cleaver, knives and a gun stormed the prayer service.
Pollack said it was more crucial than ever to support the synagogue.
“When I see the synagogue full, I know they are the people who believe the synagogue will not close but will be strengthened,” Pollack told Israel’s Arutz Sheva. “What we need to do is come back here and pray.”
Berman of the Orthodox Union told TheBlaze, “There’s no doubt what happened yesterday is an absolute shocker and a devastating horrific attack.”
“As believing people we constantly try to do more positive in the world, as a result of everything that happens, and definitely as a result of terrible things that happen, because our job in the world is to bring as much light and as much positive into the world,” Berman said.
Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, one of the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox world, published a letter in the widely read religious Israeli newspaper Yated Neeman to deliver a similar message: double down on scripture study and good deeds.
Steinman quoted the Talmud, asking what a person is supposed to do to find salvation during the tough times on the eve of the redemption. One should learn more Torah and do more acts of kindness, he wrote, appealing to the faithful to look deep inside as only they know what they can do better.
An Orthodox Jewish man studies and prays on Nov. 19, 2014, in the Jerusalem synagogue that was attacked the previous day by two Palestinians, leaving four Israeli worshippers dead and fatally injuring a police officer. (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)
The sentiment of humility was also expressed among the worshippers at the attacked synagogue.
“Our future in this world is dependent on God," Gavriel Cohen told the Associated Press.
Berman said he believes the synagogue was targeted by terrorists precisely because it was a house of worship.
“The fact that synagogues and yeshivas [seminaries] bring such light, such happiness, such values, such insight to the world bothers those that are coming from a very, very evil place,” Berman said. “Those that pretend to represent other religions by doing evil things are bothered by the fact that there’s light in the world, that there’s positive in the world, and the evil spirit inside them that encourages them to destroy light.”
Berman said that as painful as Wednesday’s attack was, one shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Jews today have a state, an army and a police force.
“We no longer have to depend on others to protect us,” Berman said. “While we went through a tremendous challenge yesterday, we’re only going to get stronger from it, and every drop of good that we do in the world as a result of yesterday is defeating the purpose of what the terrorists tried to do.”
For the author of the popular pro-Israel blog, Israel Matzav, the story came closer to home than he ever imagined.
Israel Matzav’s blogger – who posts anonymously – told TheBlaze by phone that he grew up in Boston with Rabbi Mosheh Twersky, 59, the scion of a storied rabbinical family.
Israel Matzav remembered Twersky as a brilliant scholar who was put into 12th grade classes when he was a seventh-grader, who while possessing a stellar mind showed incredible patience with those who didn’t grasp lessons as quickly as he did.
“He was totally brilliant,” Israel Matzav told TheBlaze. “He was way beyond everybody else.”
Twersky was compassionate with those who didn’t fit in, making a deep impression on his students that they should do the same, the blogger added.
The slain rabbi was the grandson of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik who the Washington Post described as “perhaps modern Judaism’s most towering philosopher.”
A graduate of Harvard University where his father, Rabbi Isadore Twersky, founded the Center for Jewish Studies, Twersky moved to Israel in 1990 and took a senior position at Yeshivas Toras Moshe, a rabbinical seminary.
“Mosheh himself was a guy who loved to teach and he was the guy who would sit and patiently explain a Talmud passage to someone who didn’t get it over and over and over again,” Israel Matzav recalled. “He was a very generous, caring person. He remembered who he was and where he came from” as the son and grandson of prominent Bible scholars.
Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher which oversees kosher certifications, knew Twersky as a child.
“Mosheh was a tremendous talmid chacham (“wise student” or scholar), and exceptionally humble,” Genack posted online.
Twersky’s son Meshulam emphasized his father’s compassion at the funeral, saying he was someone "you could always pour your heart out to."