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Praying for Peace

Rabbi Avi Shafran

April 22, 2002


Under leaden skies heavy with the promise of rain, more than 50,000 Jews gathered in Lower Manhattan this Sunday to recite Psalms and pray for the safety and security of Jews in Israel, where violence against innocent men, women and children has been perpetrated with sickening regularity, as well as in other countries where anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish citizens and institutions have markedly increased.

The rain held off, though, as the streets began to fill, the seemingly endless column of worshippers fanning out from the intersection of Water Street and Hanover Plaza, the men's section - a sea of black hats, knitted yarmulkes and baseball caps - running north almost to the Brooklyn Bridge, the women's section running several blocks south to the Battery. It held off as the designated leader of the services, Rabbi Zyshe Heshel, stepped up to the podium at 2:45 to begin the Mincha service [the Afternoon Service], held off through the repeated, thunderous chants of "Amen." Throughout the responsive recitation of eight chapters of Psalms, the rain held off.

Yet the weather was apparently the last thing on the minds of participants.

"It's a tremendous merit just to be here," said one man, an attorney from Brooklyn. "It feels so good being part of this huge gathering, demonstrating support for our fellow Jews in the way Jews have always been taught to show support."

"Coming together to pray in these kinds of numbers is the ultimate expression of solidarity," was the way a woman in the crowd put it. According to the event's organizers, the gathering indeed represented one of the largest unified recitations of Psalms in modern history. In addition to the Manhattan assembly, which drew men, women and children from throughout the Greater New York area, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Maryland, parallel programs - many with live-telephone hook-ups to the proceedings in New York -- were held in at least 35 other cities including Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Boca Raton, FL; Chicago, IL; Cincinnati, OH; Detroit, MI; Edmonton, ONT; Lakewood, NJ; Memphis, TN; Montreal, QUE; Phoenix, AZ; Portland, OR; Scranton, MA; and Silver Spring, MD.

For yet another participant, the "Kiddush Hashem" or "Glorification of G-d's Name," created by the dignified and respectful conduct of the massive crowd was one of the most awe-inspiring aspects of the assembly. "You have so many people in one place and practically the only sounds you hear are the sounds of prayer. That kind of decorum has to make a positive impression."

That impression was only reinforced during the event's final moments when, after the roar of thousands of voices raised in reciting the final words of the declaration of faith traditionally recited at the end of the Yom Kippur Ne'ila [Closing] service died down, the crowd slowly and quietly dispersed.

And then, a soft rain began to fall.



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