When Maurice Shnaider of Kingston, N.Y. heard that his sister and brother-in-law were murdered by Hamas, he didn’t know if he would he would have a minyan for shiva. In the end, hundreds came, some from hours away.
By Howard Blas – Chabad.org
Margit and Yosi Silverman were murdered on Oct. 7 by Hamas terrorists in their home in Kibbutz Nir Oz, Israel. Though initially thought to have been taken hostage, they were soon identified and buried on the Monday after Simchat Torah.
Some 5,600 miles away, in Kingston, N.Y., Margit’s brother, Maurice Shnaider, suddenly became a mourner. The Peru-born, longtime resident of Colorado had just recently moved to Kingston, where he’d joined the Chabad-Lubavitch of Ulster County Jewish community, and he wondered whether he’d be able to even gather a quorum for prayers during the week-long shiva mourning period.
“I hoped we could gather 10 or 20 people,” says Shnaider. Instead, over the next week, 800 people showed up for shiva. “Some people came from three and four hours away.”
Kingston Jewish community member Michelle Tuchman was amazed by the scene. “Each night, hundreds of people came—even buses of people,” she says. “They came from Philadelphia, New Jersey and Montreal. I was so touched watching these young people coming to Maurice’s house.”
Howard Vichinsky, president of Chabad of Ulster, was similarly struck by the numbers and range of people who came to comfort Maurice and his family.
“People came from all over to pay their respects and to show their support and sympathy for the living,” he says. “They came from Lakewood, Englewood, Teaneck [New Jersey]; yeshivahs in Monsey and Riverdale, and in Durham [New York]; the local Reform temple; buses from junior high schools and high schools, Yeshiva University—way beyond our community.”
Vichinsky was particularly touched by a large group that came from a Chassidic yeshivah in Monsey, N.Y. “They came and sang beautiful songs in his home; you could see how comforting an act that was.”
About 50 people came the first night, says Vichinsky, then 150 on the second night, and 250 on the third. They came throughout the day—not just at minyan times—and stayed for hours.
“No one had ever seen anything like this,” he says. “Certainly not in Kingston.”
Tears and Dancing
Rabbi Yitzchak Hecht, together with his wife, Leah, directs Chabad of Ulster County. He began to learn of the mass terror attack in Israel as Shabbat—Simchat Torah in Israel and Shemini Atzeret abroad—progressed. He included additional Tehillim (“Psalms”) in the service but also placed an additional emphasis on “wiping out the negatives with positives” by stressing the need to rejoice in the holiday even more so than usual.
“We knew we needed to have more simcha [joy] than usual,” he recalls. Simchat Torah is the day the Jewish people dance together with the Torah, so “we danced our hearts out. That is what the Rebbe would have wanted us to do. He would want every Jew to do another mitzvah and another as a way of responding.”
When the holiday was out and the full-scope of the horror had set in, Rabbi Hecht and the community learned that not only had hundreds of their brethren been slaughtered in the Holy Land, but that one of their own had been directly affected.
Not only were Shnaider’s sister and brother-in-law among the murdered: Maurice’s niece and nephew, Shiri (Silverman) and Yarden Bibas, and their two sons, Ariel, 4, and Kfir, who just turned 10 months old, were kidnapped and are currently being held captive by Hamas in Gaza. Awful images of Shiri holding her two red-headed boys as they’re being taken by Hamas are among those seared into the public’s minds from that terrible day.
“This horrible event was just a big blow to the whole community,” says Vichinsky. “Anyone who came to pay respects for Maurice’s loss was also paying respects for a tragedy that happened to all Jews that day—in Israel, and by extension, to all of us.”
Maurice, his wife Cindy and the youngest of their three boys had only joined the Kingston community a few months ago, but already they’ve become cherished members, with all the little things that come along with that: At one point, Maurice had mentioned to the rabbi that he’d owned and operated a coffee shop in Denver. Ever since, he’s been brewing fresh coffee for everyone who comes to the Kingston morning minyan on Mondays and Thursdays.
But Hecht was still touched when he observed how deeply the community came together to support Maurice and his family. “The unity we saw was uplifting. Everyone felt that we are all in it together,” he says. “From that alone, Moshiach should come!”
‘This Is What Unity Looks Like’
On the Thursday morning after the attack, shiva was held at Chabad, following morning prayers, and included a community gathering held on the synagogue’s front lawn. Standing together with the Shnaider family were Rabbi Hecht and fellow Chabad of Ulster Rabbi Avraham (A.B.) Itkin, and in attendance were local politicians, among them the mayor and other elected officials, as well as the media and Jewish and non-Jewish community members.
“We are standing under a sign that says ‘Do a Mitzvah for Israel,’ ” Hecht told the gathered. “We have to do mitzvahs, and acts of goodness and kindness [with which] we can change the world and make it a better place—a G‑dly place and a holy place.”
Praying for the coming of Moshiach—a time of peace and no war—might sound like a dream, Hecht said, “but you know what? We are living in a dream now with all of the negatives. Why have a bad dream if we can live in a good dream? [Let’s] make that good dream a reality.”
Hecht was followed by Maurice, who thanked everyone for joining. Maurice spoke of his “sense of belonging amid the grief and loss” and discovering that while he’d lost his sister, “I have gained an extended family, bound by the ties of G‑d, Judaism and compassion.” He spoke of the Rebbe’s charge to battle the forces of darkness with acts of goodness and kindness.
Tuchman, who was at the gathering, says she was touched by Shnaider’s remarks at the communal event, noting especially that Shnaider had indicated that at some point in the near future, he wanted to host a party in his home where all of the people who came for shiva could come back “for a good cause.”
Tuchman was also moved by presentations and remarks of the two rabbis, Hecht and Itkin.“It was very emotional,” she says, meaning both the communal event and the general shiva. “It was both very sad and very joyful.”
As the week of shiva drew to a close, Shnaider spoke about “going back to my family and myself.” He admitted that he was feeling exhausted from interacting with so many who came to offer comfort but full of thankfulness as well.
“People came to comfort me, but I was comforting them, too,” he says thoughtfully. “This wasn’t only for me. They were doing it for Am Yisrael [the Jewish people]. People came here to make a connection to Israel and to being Jewish, and this was the unity that I saw. B’yachad—‘together’—is the word I keep using. This is what unity looks like.”
Reprinted with permission from Chabad.org.