Former Baltimore Rabbi, Now in Israel, Reflects on Impact of War

Rabbi Elan Adler
Rabbi Elan Adler stands in front of the steel-reinforced window in his safe room. (Courtesy of Rabbi Elan Adler)

By John Rydell

Rabbi Elan Adler said the sound of Hamas rockets shattered his sense of security.

During a Zoom interview last week from the safe room of his apartment outside Jerusalem, Adler said he was continuing to hear “loud thuds and booms.” He described it as interceptors from Israel’s Iron Dome defense system targeting Hamas missiles.

Adler’s remarks came during a virtual discussion with members of the Edward A. Myerberg Center in Northwest Baltimore.

He and his wife, Rifkah Lambert Adler, who writes for the Jerusalem Post, live two-and-a-half hours from the Gaza Strip, but the rabbi concedes no region is safe. Rabbi Adler said a young soldier, who lives in the apartment building next door, was killed by Hamas terrorists during the initial attack.

“Reservists were called and told to report for duty,” Adler said. “He left his house and never came back. His family is now sitting shiva.”

Adler was born in Israel, the son of Holocaust survivors who fled Hungary. He spent 17 years in Baltimore, as associate rabbi at Beth Tfiloh Congregation and later as rabbi of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Greengate Jewish Center, prior to making aliyah in 2010.

Adler, who currently teaches at a local girls’ high school, said his students are traumatized by the vicious attack.

“They all take buses, they travel,” he said. “They just don’t know how to assimilate all that’s going on, and many of them have spiritual questions.”

He added that Israelis are overwhelmed by grief as they cope with the catastrophic loss of life.

“There are people volunteering to dig graves, because there are not enough grave diggers,” he noted.

Adler said not since the Holocaust has Israel “had to deal with this kind of challenge to bury more than 1400 people in the span of a few days.”

Adler shared the shock and disbelief of many in the country that Israel was completely caught off guard by the deadly attack by Hamas.

“With our sophisticated intelligence and security measures, how did this happen?” he questioned. “Why was there no reaction in the first five or six hours? Nobody showed up, that’s the big question, and I guess some heads are going to have to roll on that one.

“This hits very, very hard, and the sense that it’s going to be a long war is something we all have to deal with in a very, very painful way,” he continued. “Israelis don’t want a ceasefire. They want this [destruction of Hamas] done and taken care of once and for all.”

Adler said he and his wife received countless phone calls and texts from longtime friends, who are worried about their safety. He said some have even invited the couple to return to the U.S. to stay with them until the war is over.

But, Adler said, “We’re here for the long haul. This is our home.”

John Rydell is a freelance writer.

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