Ocean County Orthodox Leader In Israel During Attacks

Lakewood Rabbi Moshe Rev Weisberg during a phone interview from Israel. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  JERUSALEM – As the clock neared the tenth hour on the morning of October 7th, Lakewood Rabbi Moshe Rev Weisberg felt exceptionally uplifted walking to one of the synagogues near his second home in Israel.

  This year, two of Weisberg’s children and their families had come from the States to celebrate the sacred occasions of Sukkot and Simchat Torah in the Holy Land. The experience had been nothing shy of glorious for the three generations gathered together.

  Weisberg’s sense of profound joy took an ominous twist in a matter of minutes. As his eyes wandered to the sky, he saw a plume of white missiles almost overhead.

  “The shock was like taking a dive into a beautiful swimming pool and crashing into the concrete,” said Weisberg. “Suddenly, everything was really shattered.”

  Soon, the air would be filled with the piercing wail of sirens, signaling a mere thirty seconds for all to find shelter. Some would retreat to reinforced rooms in their homes or basements, while others would gather in communal spaces offering similar protection. The relentless scream of sirens would become a hauntingly familiar sound in the days that followed.

  The air raid signals were still in full blast a week later when one of Weisberg’s sons was at the airport in Tel Aviv, finally able to secure a flight back home.

  Word of the Hamas attack on Israel spread quickly through the Orthodox community that traditionally observes the Sabbath by “unplugging” from all electronic devices. The atrocities had not hit Jerusalem directly but were close enough in a country that’s not much bigger than New Jersey.

  Schools have been closed, and very few people venture outside other than to pick up essentials to bring home or go to the synagogue. Weisberg reported everyone was on edge and fixated on news reports with agonizing uncertainty.

  “I just stopped in to see a neighbor in my apartment building who’s a good friend,” Weisberg shared. “Her sister’s son (in his 20s) is missing and probably kidnapped.”

  When he joined Shabbat services the Saturday following the attacks, Weisberg heard a list of more individuals gone missing and others called from reserve to active duty in the Army. Nevertheless, he described the Israelis as very resilient people who sought solace through prayer and song.

  Weisberg recounted the heart-wrenching sight of funeral processions passing in his neighborhood as they made the three-minute drive to Mount Herzl, Israel’s National Military Cemetery in Jerusalem.

  “We can’t stop crying,” said the Lakewood rabbi. “There’s one funeral after another funeral, with one after another on the same day. The streets are jammed with people going to the funerals.”

  Even though the Hamas had not physically made its way into Jerusalem, Weisberg described the attack as intimately personal, including its underlying motives. He cited a level of brutality not seen since the Holocaust, with innocent children, entire families, and women suffering abuse.

  “This was an organized atrocity for the Hamas to murder as many Jews as possible,” Weisberg said. “They’ve made a religion saying that if you die killing Jews, you’re a hero and go straight to heaven.”

  “There’s a huge difference between Hamas and other Palestinian entities,” emphasized Weisberg. “From day one, their charter has been to kill every Jew in Israel, no matter where they live.”

  Weisberg noted that hundreds of individuals from Gaza were employed in Israel, where Arabs and Israelis worked alongside each other. He recounted an experience from two decades ago when one of his grandsons received care in a hospital from a non-Jewish healthcare provider, emphasizing how such interactions were appreciated and a part of daily life in Israel.

  As exhibited throughout the world, many hold strong opinions regarding the conflicts that have existed between Israelis and Palestinians for decades. Even among some Jews, there has been a degree of division. However, the Hamas attack has united Jews against the forces of evil.

Back Home In NJ

  The spokesman for the Lakewood Vaad, Weisberg, shared some information regarding Jews in Lakewood and the surrounding communities. He said the Vaad was created in the late 1980s as an informal group to become involved in local and state issues. As part of their volunteer role, members of the Vaad interview candidates and make recommendations to voters.

  “The first yeshiva was founded in 1943 in Lakewood with 14 students,” shared Weisberg. “As the years went on, the yeshiva grew, as did the Jewish community.”

  Weisberg approximated that the current population of Lakewood stands at around 150,000 residents, with 80% or 120,000 identifying as Jewish. A significant number of Jews have either family ties in Israel or own homes there themselves.

  Reflecting on his own choice, Weisberg and his wife opted to forego purchasing a second home in the Catskills or spend winters in Florida, driven by their deep spiritual connection to the Holy Land. The couple also spent a great deal of time visiting Weisberg’s late mother-in-law in Jerusalem, who died last year at the age of 99.

  Nonetheless, the news of the Hamas attack did not reach the Ocean County community through their contacts in Israel. As it was the Sabbath, observant Jews had no intentions of accessing electronic devices that might have alerted them.

  Respecting their traditions, two prominent officials decided to deliver the distressing news in person to the orthodox community. Congressman Chris Smith and Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy personally appeared in Northern Ocean County to provide information regarding the attacks in Israel.

  The method used to convey the message to his community back home triggered a feeling of familiarity for Weisberg. Fifty years ago, when he was a yeshiva student in Lakewood, Weisberg remembered an interruption during Shabbat services. News of the Yom Kippur War shook the community, with some reservists called to Israel.

  Weisberg said that only those who had undergone training with the Israeli Army were returning to assist in the battle against Hamas. Numerous reservists have already been recalled to active duty in Israel.

  A Jewish resident from Lakewood, who preferred to remain anonymous, revealed that many in the community are attempting to maintain a low profile. She pointed out that anti-Semitism had existed in the local area even before the Hamas attack. In the meantime, the Sheriff’s Department has increased its patrols across northern Ocean County, focusing on the area’s synagogues and mosques. 

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Stephanie A. Faughnan is an award-winning journalist associated with Micromedia Publications/Jersey Shore Online and the director of Writefully Inspired. Recognized with two Excellence in Journalism awards by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, Stephanie's passion lies in using the power of words to effect positive change. Her achievements include a first-place award in the Best News Series Print category for the impactful piece, "The Plight Of Residents Displaced By Government Land Purchase," and a second-place honor for the Best Arts and Entertainment Coverage category, specifically for "Albert Music Hall Delivers Exciting Line-Up For 25th Anniversary Show." Stephanie can be contacted by email at stephanienjreporter@gmail.com.