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The Scene

When you hear about the raging passions of the Middle East conflict, you don’t envision Har Nof. Har Nof is the neighborhood where seminary girls meet for frozen yogurt, where minivans fill the neat parking lots, where every Israeli storekeeper knows English. It’s the neighborhood where Rav Ovadiah’s followers harmoniously coexist with a mix of yeshivos and seminaries, several chassidish communities, and a strong dati-leumi community down at the bottom.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This is the place where thousands of college students have discovered the treasures of Torah, where committed talmidei chachamim and idealistic balabatim breathe the air of Yerushalayim and take in the sights of its hilltops through their windows. It’s a mountainside neighborhood of aliyah — in the most literal sense — with daunting flights of stairs leading from one level to the next, where Shabbos zemiros waft through the air on quiet Friday nights, and where generations of striving Jews make their homes. But last Tuesday, peaceful Har Nof became the site of a primitive massacre. Two Arab terrorists burst into the 6:25 minyan at the Kehillat Bnei Torah shul on Rechov Agassi just as chazaras hashatz began, unleashing barbaric hatred with meat cleavers and bullets. They took four lives inside the shul, four of the community’s crown jewels. They went on shooting and hacking, critically injuring three more. Then they fatally wounded a policeman who tried to stop them. When they were finally shot down, they had left an entire nation shocked and shaken. The scenes of that Tuesday recall medieval pogroms, the Hebron Massacre, or the killing fields of Nazi Europe. Even after a month punctuated by terror attacks, the barbarism of a bloodbath in a house of prayer — with its underlying message that this brand of hatred respects no sanctity, has no boundaries — left people shaking. Purveyors of the media have seen their fair share of grisly images this year, courtesy of ISIS and Hamas. Yet the grisly images of blood-spattered siddurim and talleisim bespoke a horror of epic proportions.   I Never Ran So Fast Reb Ron Ilan, who served as baal tefillah that day, will never forget that Shemoneh Esreh. “I took three steps back, finishing my private Shemoneh Esreh, and waited a few moments for everyone else to finish. At 7:01, I put my tallis over my head and started chazaras hashatz. About 30 people were there behind me. Suddenly I heard yelling. I glanced behind me and saw two Arabs holding long knives. Everyone was paralyzed. One of the Arabs took advantage of that fraction of a second and started shooting in every direction. The other Arab ran forward with his knife — it looked like an ax — and started hacking at people. Blood filled the room. “Our minyan includes quite a few elderly people who don’t move all that quickly. None of us carry arms. There was no one there who could overcome the murderers. All we could do was try to run. I screamed at the others, telling them to run. The hatred coming from those eyes was unmistakable. That kind of bloodlust can only come from bnei Yishmael.” Itamar, a fresh bar mitzvah bochur, says he couldn’t figure out at first why everyone was suddenly running. “But then I saw someone fall to the floor, his tallis soaked with blood. I’d never seen a corpse before, or even someone seriously wounded. But I knew that I was in danger, that I had to run.” Urged by other mispallelim, he ran to a side door. “I never ran so fast in my life,” he says. 

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