BILLINGS — For two Montana rabbis, the celebration of a Jewish holiday finished with devastation as they learned the details of the war in Israel.
“Jews around the world had just finished celebrating a holiday known as Simchat Torah. So, we only had access to our phones once the holiday had ended,” Rabbi Shaul Shkedi, director of the Chabad Lubavitch Center in Billings, said on Monday.
Chabad Lubavitch is a movement within Orthodox Judaism where members adhere to traditional Judaism. Co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana, Rabbi Chaim Bruk, who is based in Bozeman, said he was speechless when he first learned about the war.
“I’m not a man that’s known to be at a loss of words, but the last 36 hours have been, I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life,” Bruk said. “We’re talking now about over 1,200 Jews slaughtered brutally, raped, children being taken as hostages, beheading of Israelis.”
Bruk and Shkedi both have many family members living in Israel.
“My nephew serves in the Israel defense force. My father and his wife live in Jerusalem. My uncle and aunt live (there). My uncle, one hour ago, was looking out his window and watched Israeli soldiers in the building across the street, they found two terrorists that had been hiding there since Saturday," Bruk said. "So, they’re right there and their entire purpose is to slaughter and watch Jews' blood spill.”
Shkedi has many family members fighting on the Israel defense force in the Gaza Strip after Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel.
“My mother's entire side of the family all lives in Israel. I have cousins who currently, right now, are fighting in Gaza. The thing is, I haven’t really been able to reach them because they’re occupied. I’m definitely praying for them and the constant sacrifices that they’re going through right now.”
Shkedi said what the Jewish community in Billings needs right now is support.
“Reach out to them because most likely they’re looking for more comfort and a comforting phone call can be, can make a big difference,” he said.
Bruk has felt a range of emotions as he watches the war unfold, from sadness to hope, but he also feels very angry.
"There is never an excuse for beheading, and brutally raping and taking innocent civilians as hostages. And if you want to help Israel, you want to say I support Israel, then there’s a 'but', I don’t want to hear from you. There’s nothing that Israel can do differently when this is what’s being done to their citizens,” Bruk said. “I am 41 years old, and I will not spend another moment of my life debating with people if another Holocaust is okay. Because if Hamas had their way, they’d kill every Jew in Israel, which would be more than the 6 million killed in the Holocaust.”
A prayer and solidarity vigil will be held at the Chabad Lubavitch center in Bozeman on Tuesday, Oct. 10 at 5:30 p.m. Bruk welcomes all to join to show their support.
“We need the love, all the love we can get right now,” Bruk said.