Torah Tours: From Laughter to Lament

By: Rivka Inger  |  October 11, 2023

By Rivka Inger, Senior Features Editor

Names have been mostly kept out of this article at the request of anonymity.

“Et liv’cot v’et lishchot; et sifod v’et rikod.”

“A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of wailing and a time of dancing” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

There are simply no words to describe what has happened. None. As a writer, who expresses myself primarily through words, I struggled for hours to come up with what to say, to relay the agonizing pain which has been tearing me apart, ever since I opened my phone at the end of the holiday. Instead, I looked to the words of G-d, words which I lead my life by and ones which we heard read in shul a mere few days ago. From these words, I began to attempt to make sense of what I was hearing.

I was zoche (meritorious) to go on Torah Tours this holiday with three very special people in my life, where we went to bring joy to a primarily elderly community in Poughkeepsie, New York. I speak on behalf of all of us when I say that we had a fantastic time, bonding as a group but also with the members of the community, who were so warm and so appreciative of our coming to celebrate with them. We gave shiurim (lectures), ate meals with them, and learned about the rich history of their community, which is celebrating its 135th year in just a few weeks. In short, we were all incredibly happy. 

And yet, mere minutes after we finished celebrating the holiday, with the adrenaline of dancing and learning Torah still pulsing through me, I opened my phone to a barrage of messages, posts, and videos, detailing how Israel was at war. Not a skirmish, not a conflict, a war. And more than seven hundred people were dead, a number that has only gone up since I first read about the horrors of what had occurred. 

I don’t even know how to describe the emotions that I felt. Terrified, alarmed, shocked? But more than anything, I just felt numb. I didn’t understand how we had just transitioned from the happiest day in the Jewish calendar, into the greatest tragedy that our people have seen in a generation. A tragedy that I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

In conversation with Dov Pfeiffer (YC ‘24), one of my Torah Tours teammates, he said, “I knew something had happened because my roommate’s phone had been set to get red alert updates and had been going off for hours, but I had no understanding of how bad it was. Once ḥag (the Jewish holiday) ended, and I started hearing the news, I thought the number I had heard — 700 — must have been a mistake. It was only when my roommate and I got to our room, and started to see the news, that we appreciated the horror of the tragedy that had occurred.” 

In truth, the entire energy of our group changed the moment we checked our phones. I held onto the other girl in my group as we tried to process what we were experiencing. The other boy was pacing, desperately trying to find factual information so that we knew what was really happening. Over and over, he expressed how he couldn’t believe that this was happening, that the IDF could’ve missed this. Our mourning started right then and there. Another group mate and I said Baruch Da’ayan HaEmet with G-d’s name. Never had I been on a more somber car ride. The psychological suffering that we would endure had only just begun. And yet, it was and remains nothing compared to the suffering of our brothers and sisters in The Holy Land. 

As such, the words of Kohelet ring strongly as I write this article tonight. We had our time to laugh, our time to dance, over an exhilarating holiday. And now, unfortunately, it is our time to weep and wail. To scream with all of our might to the injustices which our people are facing, and have faced for thousands of years. We are grieving, and we will continue to grieve. We are praying, and we will continue to pray. But most of all, we are fighting, and we will continue to fight with everything we have, whether from near or far. 

“Hashem Melech, Hashem Malach, Hashem Yimloch l’olam va’ed”

“Hashem is king, Hashem was king, and Hashem will be king forever.” 

May this article be dedicated to the thousands of innocent Jewish souls who have been wounded, kidnapped, and to those who are no longer a part of this world.