Throughout the world Jews were preparing for the delightful holy day known as Simchat Torah, a day of celebrating the joy of our Torah, our holiest book. It also fell, that day in that year, on Shabbat. Early on that beautiful morning, Jews in Israel were ready to dance with their community’s Torahs, enjoy fragrant festive meals, and indulge themselves with lovely and delicious afternoon naps. It was not a workday and many chayalim were especially happy to be home for the chag, the holiday. It was a day for gentle, calming breezes and happy, peaceful celebrations.
October is one of Israel’s most beautiful months. It comes on our annual calendar before we pray for the always urgently needed geshem, rain, and the wind, ruach, to blow the rain to fertilize the plantings so that we can be fruitful and multiply and our crops will be lush and abundant. It is common knowledge that Sukkot, the holiday immediately preceding Simchat Torah, is best celebrated in Israel, where there is no fear of rain or wind or even a chill in the air, nothing at all to impede our lives in our temporary dwellings — our sukkot. October in Israel is perfect, the most perfect month in the most perfect place, our Holy Land.
Our neighbors in the strip of land known as Gaza enjoy the same weather, enhanced by gentle sea breezes and balmy skies. We share the climate, but not the holy days.
The date was Tishrei 22 in the year 5784, also known as October 7, 2023. This was a day that will live in infamy. It mirrored a similar event that took place on Tishrei 10 in the year 5734, on our holiest day, Yom Kippur.
In each case, our neighbors, Gazans, or 50 years earlier, Egyptians and Syrians, launched surprise attacks on our people, brutal and devastating attacks, whether we were preparing for the holy days, or in the synagogues, or out for walks in the lovely landscapes, or riding bicycles in the streets of the cities and towns, or in my own case that long-ago Yom Kippur, enjoying the peace of Jerusalem as I recovered from a strep throat. Twice we were caught by the same dreadful surprise. I promise you, my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren, that this will never happen again. We have been carefully taught and we will not forget. Once again we will echo the urgent phrase, never again!
It has now been more than 100 days since hundreds of hostages were taken, kidnapped, by Gazan criminals. They were taken from a dance party in the desert where they gathered for a weekend of fun, and where 364 participants at the rave were slaughtered by the terrorists. More victims were taken from their homes on peaceful kibbutzim near the border with Gaza, where others of their families were persecuted and then murdered in cold blood. It remains unknown which of the hostages are still alive, who has grievous untreated injuries, and who is dead.
Our people cry out for their release, including for the bodies of those whose lives were violently taken. The pain and suffering of their loved ones is immense. What we know is that 240 innocents were taken by a vast network of terrorists and hidden in a brutal environment, thrust into tunnels, and forced to suffer physical and mental abuse and torture and lack of treatment for injuries and illnesses. They are victims of an agonizing war brought on by Hamas. They are sons and daughters, wives and husbands, babies, children, and the elderly. They are our responsibility. They must join those few already released in earlier negotiations, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.
We Jews are obligated to redeem our hostages. It is called pidyon shvuyim. I wear on my wrist a bracelet that a friend made. It has a simple message, “Bring Them Home.” We must send our soldiers, our beautiful brave young men, to reclaim these innocents and bring them home, even though it is profoundly dangerous and life-threatening to do so.
And to all those who would see this war end, the message is clear. The hostages must be released. There can be no end to hostilities, no ceasefire, until the hostages are saved. The world has forgotten our hostages. They lay blame on our chayalim, many of whom have been tragically lost. We remember our heroic soldiers and the families who face days of not knowing where their loved ones are hidden, or even whether or not they continue to live. We will not forget — or forgive.
But did you know that there are other hostages? That is what former president Trump and his comrades call the gang of insurrectionists, the 467 convicted perpetrators of the January 6, 2021, invasion of our nation’s Capitol building who were found guilty of crimes by U.S. courts.
It is they who stormed the august building, forcing officials inside to hide in fear of being injured or killed by a mob set aflame by the former president. There is no doubt of his personal guilt. Documentation was never necessary. We are all witnesses to what he evoked, deliberately, eagerly, and without reason or sanity.
We all know everything. We saw it in real time and then we saw it again on videotape. We saw a heinous and unprecedented mob of Trumpists attack one of our nation’s hallowed places. We saw how officers of the law were attacked, how shrieking maniacs stormed the building, breaking glass and forcing doors, while the president sat and watched it unfold on his television in the White House, refusing numerous requests to stop the destruction, halt the carnage, and end the incursion. For him to order the marauding gang to cease and desist. We all saw it on our own televisions. It was unprovoked criminality, ordered by Donald Trump. It was a travesty ordered by a man who had sworn to protect the United States of America. It was surely among the most shocking events in American history.
But we now must endure Trump’s revisionist history. This is an emperor who has no clothes but who has the sheer audacity to run for office as president again. Only God Himself knows what a disaster awaits this country should he succeed.
Why am I even repeating what we all know to be entirely true? What’s the point? It’s because of the one word that he is now using as he defends his barbaric actions, which led the criminals of January 6 to rise against our nation. That word is hostages.
Donald Trump has appropriated the word hostages to describe his band of lunatics who languish in prison because of their January 6 actions. I repeat. He does not call them prisoners. He has stolen a word from Jewish history. That word is hostages. It gives him, a man with an obviously very limited vocabulary, a broadened sense of power as he insists he will, personally, as president, free those whom he calls hostages, those who committed crimes against our own government. He does not care one whit about our Jewish hostages, including nine Americans. He has subjugated an emotionally loaded word and corrupted it.
My bracelet, Donald Trump, does not extend to you or your reprehensible terrorists.
Trump’s prisoners are not hostages. They are criminals. They must never be confused with innocent hostages, sealed in Hamas tunnels. It is unconscionable for any Jew with any attachment at all to his Jewishness to contemplate a vote for a man who would steal the identities of our victims. Our people are hostages. We must use whatever power we are blessed with to set them free.
The Trumpists do not warrant our sympathy or love. They are gangsters and thugs who languish where they belong.
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of four. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was! She welcomes email at firstname.lastname@example.org