President's Message

War and Passion

I am writing this message three weeks after the Simchas Torah massacre in Israel. The IDF has been bombing Gaza daily, and a ground invasion just commenced. We are all praying fervently for a successful military campaign against Hamas and the safe return of every single one of the hostages. By the time this magazine is distributed, we hope to have joined the hostages and their families at a huge seudas hoda’ah, b’siyata d’Shmaya.

The past three weeks have been emotional, devastating, exhausting—and often inspiring. Personally, I have been inspired by the national, institutional and personal mobilization following the massacre, by the intensity of tefillah and by the passionate sense of family.



I commute to work via the New York City subway. Occasionally, a fight will break out or a deranged person will act in a threatening manner. When this happens, people instinctively move away and don’t get involved.1 In contrast, videos of terrorist attacks in Israel unfailingly show by-standers and strangers running toward the person with the gun or knife or vehicle. After Simchas Torah, this happened on a national level. Some 350,000 reservists were called up, the largest mobilization in the country’s history; yet another 100,000, many of whom had been traveling or working in Thailand, the US, South America and almost everywhere in between, volunteered for military duty. What other people runs toward a war?

I witnessed the same phenomenon on an organizational level. Following the massacre, the response of the OU in Israel was instantaneous. The leadership team under Rabbi Avi Berman, executive director of OU Israel, met early on the morning of October 8. Most of them were in shock, some had been unable to reach friends and family in the south, virtually all had a spouse or child or grandchild who had been called by the military. Yet there they were, planning a course of action with the first focus being locating and assisting OU staff and program participants, many of whom live in the Sderot region. Over 150 members of our staff were called to military duty; their shoes needed to be filled, their families needed to be cared for. The commitment, professionalism and gevurah of the team were breathtaking.
By Monday, our OU-JLIC and NCSY teams in Israel had commenced round-the-clock grassroots activities to assist evacuees, soldiers’ families and others; they are now coordinating the efforts of over 1,000 volunteers. Food preparation and delivery, transportation, babysitting, job placement, shivah visits, clothing procurement and much more. All while dealing with personal challenges and trauma.

Our US team showed similar alacrity. A statement was drafted and issued on Motzaei Simchas Torah. The next day we held two chizuk calls, with thousands of stunned participants. Our PR and advocacy departments and many of our programs pivoted2 immediately toward Israel-related goals.

Finally, the mobilization on a personal, grassroots level was staggering. Literally hundreds of pop-up enterprises were formed within days in Israel and the US (and elsewhere) to fund, feed, house, supply and comfort Israeli soldiers and their families, evacuees, mourners and families of hostages. Some of the efforts may have been overlapping, but the enterprise, generosity and passion were awe-inspiring. Here is one of countless examples of people whose lives became dedicated overnight to chesed: On the day after Simchas Torah, a WhatsApp message seeking foreign doctors to volunteer in Israel went viral. Yigal Marcus, an investment advisor (and chairman of NCSY Israel) was named as the contact person in the message. Within days, the Marcus home became a command center that was working to get over 7,000 (!) volunteer physicians credentialed with the Israeli Health Department. Yigal’s sister Eliana Aaron, who is a nurse practitioner and founder of EMA Care, a medical management and health advocacy company in Israel, is working with Israel’s Ministry of Health and the Israel Medical Association to provide hundreds of volunteers to hospitals and nursing homes whose staffs were depleted by the war.



These weeks have been traumatic for every Jew. Those who experienced the attacks on October 7, those who fought off the terrorists and those who treated the wounded, witnessed and experienced unspeakable horrors. The rest of us feel the pain of the victims and the hostages and their families vicariously, but in a personal way. Every Israeli has heard the sound of missiles overhead, the booms, the sirens. Everyone has run into a bomb shelter or fallen to the ground on the side of the road. No one is more than two degrees of separation from someone who was killed or taken captive or sent to the front lines or evacuated from their homes. Children have been separated from their fathers who ran to the front. The threat of a multi-front war is present. There is fear and uncertainty. And terror.

It took a few days, but Jews outside of Israel also have also been subject to fear and trepidation. Anti-Israel and antisemitic rallies have turned aggressive, and threats of violence on university campuses and elsewhere have left Jews shaken. The sense of physical security that prevailed only a month ago has largely dissipated as Jew-haters around the world have become emboldened to show their true colors.3

This is a new reality for most of us. Israelis are accustomed to a degree of fear and insecurity (more or less, depending on where they live), but last month increased the general anxiety to a level not seen at least since the intifada of 2000-2005. For those of us in the US, our sense of security was shattered by hordes of people supporting Hamas and openly screaming “gas the Jews.” The genie is out of the bottle. Whether on college campuses or in our Orthodox enclaves, we are left to wonder which of our neighbors is hostile and dangerous. We will take new precautions, but the fear will not dissipate quickly.

At the same time, there is a silver lining: many of us have newly internalized that our security ultimately depends solely on Hashem. Millions of chapters of Tehillim have been recited. Prayer has taken on a new urgency.



In the summer issue of Jewish Action, I argued that very little separates American Orthodox Jews across the entire religios/cultural spectrum when it comes to Israel. Never has that been clearer than in the unified response to the pogrom. Every one of us was shocked and in mourning. And we responded. We gave money, we bought and shipped ceramic vests, we tied tzitzis, we made our apartments in Israel available to evacuees. We recited Tehillim. Yeshivos cancelled bein ha’zemanim and began the winter zeman a week early. We were glued to the news. Some recited the Mi Sheberach for Israeli soldiers for the first time. Everyone was engaged and took this personally, whether or not we have relatives in Israel, whether or not we call ourselves Zionists, whether the victims were dati or chiloni. We profoundly felt, and feel, a sense of family.

At the same time, there is a silver lining: many of us have newly internalized that our security ultimately depends solely on Hashem. Millions of chapters of Tehillim have been recited. Prayer has taken on a new urgency.

How does one define family? A devastating story: the parents and sisters of Ariel Zohar were murdered in Kibbutz Nir Oz; it was reported that Ariel requested that someone retrieve his father’s tefillin in time for his upcoming bar mitzvah. A heartwarming story: a group of thirteen-year-old boys in Lakewood, New Jersey, were so moved upon hearing about Ariel that they tracked him down in order to grieve with him and to wish him mazel tov on his bar mitzvah. Nir Oz and Lakewood are on opposite sides of the world. And yet.

Last week, I visited many evacuees from Israel’s south who are being housed in hotels. Their stories of loss and survival were bone chilling. But they were desperate to tell the stories and overwhelmingly grateful that Jews from abroad wanted to listen. They wanted and received many hugs—hugs from strangers who are family. I met an extraordinary woman named Smadar who was evacuated from Ashkelon to a hotel in Tel Aviv and immediately became a volunteer. She did not have the appearance of a religious person, but she gave us a shiur on faith and bitachon that left me speechless. And devastated. And inspired.

May Hashem strengthen, support, protect and redeem all of us—soldiers, leaders, captives, widows, orphans and all of their families, near and far.


1. An exception occurred this past May when a passenger choked a homeless man to death who was threatening people on the subway. Perhaps not surprisingly, public sympathy was evenly split between the aggressor and the good Samaritan (who was indicted!).
2. The word of the month is “pivot,” as the situation in Israel has caused so many to shift priorities.
3. In her must-read book, People Love Dead Jews, Dara Horn anticipated much of the current reaction: initial sympathy for the massacred Jews, followed quickly by outrage that the living Jews (in the IDF) are fighting back.


Mitchel R. Aeder is president of the Orthodox Union.

This article was featured in the Winter 2023 issue of Jewish Action.
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