Rabbi Dr. Eli Yoggev had no idea Israel had been attacked when he arrived at Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Baltimore on Saturday.
Observing a sacred Jewish holiday, he wasn't using the internet or watching the news.
"As I entered into the synagogue many of our congregants had pulled me aside, one after the other, completely concerned, completely overwhelmed. And I was asking them, what's going on?"
He didn't immediately grasp the magnitude of the situation. He led a prayer service later, taking a moment to honor those who had died so far.
"I mentioned a number, 60 or 70. And someone in the back was going — Rabbi, higher, higher."
"It feels like every half hour, more and more horrifying news comes out," said Howard Libit, head of the Baltimore Jewish Council.
He woke up to an alert on his phone in the middle of the night Saturday. He hasn't focused on much else since.
He's been checking in with friends who are in Israel, especially those in Baltimore's sister city in the southern part of the country near the Gaza border.
"The American-Jewish community has such a deep relationship with Israel. So many of our families here have children who take a gap year after high school and study in Israel. My son spent a month in Israel after his sophomore year of high school, and we anticipate my daughter will do the same next summer. This is part of the American-Jewish experience, is to build that deep relationship with Israel."
Here at home, security measures have ramped up at synagogues and schools.
"Baltimore County police, Baltimore City police, our state police have been in touch, have been checking intelligence. They haven't seen any threats at this point but they've been monitoring social media making sure there's no threats, and their patrols have stepped up," Libit said.
Sunday was supposed to be one of the happiest holidays of the year for the Jewish community.
"Simchat Torah. Simchat literally means happiness. So we were in a big conundrum. How can we celebrate a happy holiday in such a sad and stressful time," Rabbi Yoggev said.
Yoggev and his congregants still spent the holiday celebrating, treating it as a form of prayer, while keeping their family and friends in Israel close to their hearts. The gravity of the situation was not lost on them.
"It's very frustrating to be a Jew in the exile while your people are suffering. Say you have family members in another country and they're suffering, it hurts. It's hard and you feel helpless. It's a very tough feeling."
"This is beyond anything most Israelis have ever experienced. If they weren't alive in the 1973 Yom Kippur attack, this is a whole new experience. It feels almost cynical to say, they were used to the periodic rocket attacks. Everyone knows where their shelter is, everyone knows where to go. And the Iron Dome has given such a sense of protection. But the idea that Hamas terrorists would invade the country by breaking through the barrier, and just slaughter innocent civilians and grab others and bring them back to Gaza as hostages, it's beyond belief. I don't think anyone could imagine it," Libit said.
For those looking to donate to provide aid to Israel, The Associated Jewish Federation of Baltimore has set up an emergency fund to support victims. You can donate to that fund on their website.
This story was originally published by Elizabeth Worthington at Scripps News Baltimore.
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