Melaveh Malka is the name given to the Jewish tradition of escorting the Sabbath Queen on her way out after the sun has set on the sabbath. It is filled with music, good food and the sharing of warm social relations between its participants.
On the night of 14th October, the small community of Shiloh, the ancient capital of the Children of Israel where the Ark of the Covenant stood for 369 years, held host to a less than usual Meleveh Malka. The main synagogue of Shiloh is built to resemble the Tabernacle of Shiloh, which once housed the ark. The entrance to this magnificent building was being filled with late comers anxious not to miss this special occasion. Tables were spread out in the lobby with salads, snacks, cakes and drinks. But it was the enticing sound of music that prompted visitors to venture inside to the main hall, that also is home to religious services.
Men were seated on the western side of the hall, with the women facing opposite. Musicians had set up their equipment in between. Moving Hebrew melodies were chanted by the congregation in a haunting undertone to the musical accompaniment. These occasions are usually filled with an unmistakable air of frivolity, but this night was different.
There was a positive mood of optimism and a resilience native to Jewish communities well used to facing external threats. However, there was also the sad reality of concern, as many of those this early stage of yet another Gaza war. Unlike previous conflicts on the south-western border of Israel, thoughts were also turned towards the prospect of facing something far different from previous skirmishes that break out on a regular basis.
Never before had the state of Israel experienced such a mass display of horror inflicted upon innocent civilians. While words are being hurled against the Jews of honoring a humanitarian lifeline to the civilians of Gaza, the very definition of belonging to a ‘humanitarian’ society had been lost in the aftermath of a slaughter not seen since the Nazi holocaust.
The ‘festivity’ was opened as the guest speaker took to the microphone and welcomed her community to the hall. Ditza Orr could be mistaken for most mothers in this predominantly religious community, except for the obvious signs of existing in a living nightmare. Her son Avinatan was one of the hostages brutally captured by ‘humanitarian’ butchers. In Judaism one makes a shiva call to the family of a deceased loved one, to help comfort them. It was a momentous inner struggle to concentrate of the reason for this gathering. News had emerged that a brave IDF patrol had infiltrated the Gazan border and found 9 of the captured hostages, sadly among the dead. Hamas had previously claimed they were killed during an Israeli air strike, before arrogance led them to boast of their execution. It was with these dark thoughts and inner struggle that one’s attention was directed towards the words of the distraught mother, who courageously put on a brave face.
Following her appeal for divine compassion, the music continued and the gathering did its best to resemble those of a traditional farewell to the Sabbath Queen. The Sabbath greeting is always one of peace. Would the Sabbath farewell follow suit?
The Torah (Jewish bible) mentions the importance of not breaking down before one’s enemies. This event was a miraculous demonstration of keeping it all together, while the world seems to be pulling it self further apart. The media dialogue that only days before had focused on the plight of the downtrodden Jews, a mantra that is oft repeated, seemed reluctant to continue this support through to its logical conclusion, pleading for the release of hostages. Not even the offer from the Israeli government to help alleviate the supply needs of the Gazan people in exchange for the release of hostages has been shown to be of interest. Instead, the self-righteous judges of the Jewish people can only focus on the humanitarian needs of those who supported and even participated in such humanitarian acts that leaves the imagination fighting for breath.
One hopes that this gathering’s prayers will be answered with compassion and in the near future Avinatan can rejoin his community in a much more festive mood after the Queen of Sabbath takes her leave but allows the reign of peace to prevail.
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