Mourning a recent spate of tragic deaths in the Pico-Robertson community, hundreds came together on Jan. 30, for an evening of tefilah at Young Israel of Century City (YICC).
Filling every seat and much of the standing room at the synagogue on West Pico Boulevard, adults and teenagers, men and women, recited tehillim (Psalms) and listened as local rabbis from multiple area synagogues commemorated the losses.
Since Jan. 12, three people in the tight-knit Orthodox community have died suddenly, according to Hillygram, a daily e-mail blast for the Orthodox community. One-year-old Nosson Karpel passed away on Jan. 12. The following day, Daniella Casper, a 24-year-old wife and mother, also died. And on Jan. 21, 5-month-old Joshua Plotzker also suddenly passed away.
Although the mood throughout the synagogue was clearly somber, with tehillim handouts laid next to each seat, there was comfort afforded by the fact that 12 local synagogues collaborated on organizing the event, which included comments from Rabbi Asher Brander of the Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel (LINK) and Rabbi Dovid Revah of Adas Torah.
Rabbi Elazar Muskin, YICC’s senior rabbi, opened the evening explaining why community rabbis chose to hold the gathering on the 29th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat — namely, because amongst some pious Jews, it is a tradition to fast and pray on the day preceding Rosh Hodesh.
Muskin, clearly filled with emotion, called the evening a chance to “take stock of the month that has passed.”
“Our community needs good months ahead,” the rabbi said, his voice wavering. “We no longer want to be inundated every day with Hillygrams and shul notices telling us about funerals, telling us about tehillim gatherings for a child, or for an adult.”
As Muskin continued, his tone shifted from that of a rabbi speaking to a community to an individual speaking with God.
“Even though we lost a woman, 24 years old, even though we lost a baby, 5 months old — in two weeks time, God,” Muskin said, “we haven’t forgotten your name, God — don’t forget this precious community.”
As tehillim readings began, rabbis each cited a verse in Hebrew —“He has turned to the prayer of those who cried out, and He did not despise their prayer,” while those gathered stood during prayers and responded in unison.
Benny Adler, who attended the prayer service, said he came for a very simple reason —“To show achdus,” unity.
Brad Markoff, who came with his wife, Mia, said he had been unsure what to expect, and that he had never experienced a communal prayer gathering as a response to tragedy.
Markoff said his most burning question remained unanswered: “Why did God allow a 5-month-old baby to die and a 24-year-old mother to die?” Yet, he said, the evening left him with a sense that something meaningful had occurred, even if he could not quite grasp what it was.
“I felt there was something very powerful that happened,” Markoff said. “I don’t understand — I don’t get it.”
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