Heartbreak in Jersey

The Jewish world is still reeling from the tragedy in Jersey City Tuesday. Yidden around the world share in the grief of the families and friends.

The community suddenly and without warning found itself in the middle of a war zone on Tuesday. In a shootout that had Martin Luther King Drive resounding with gunshots from high-powered rifles for several hours, six people were killed, including three civilians, a police officer and the two gunmen.

Mrs. Leah Mindel Ferenz, Hy”d, was a resident of Jersey City who worked in the store, the daughter of, ybl”c, Reb Binyomin Hirsch Greenfield and the wife of Reb Moshe Dovid Ferenz. She was 33 years old.

The second Jewish victim was identified as habachur Moshe Hirsch Deutch, Hy”d, son of Reb Sholom Deutch. He lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was a cousin of Mrs. Ferenz. He was 24 years old.

We express our gratitude to the scores of law enforcement officers who rushed to the scene and put themselves in harm’s way to save innocent lives and neutralize the murderers.

Detective Joseph Seals was a 15-year veteran of the Jersey City Police Department, who sacrificed his life to save others. In his work, Seals focused on removing illegal guns from the streets of Jersey City, to make it safe for people. Tragically, in the end, he was killed by one. Our sincerest condolences to his widow and five children.

Suffering of such magnitude is beyond our comprehension. But even in the grief, hashgachah pratis was evident, as some were wounded and killed while others emerged unhurt, if only barely. In many cases, the difference between life and death was a matter of inches or seconds.

The owner of the JC Kosher Supermarket, Moshe Ferenz, had left the store and gone to the shul next door — just five minutes before the two crazed killers entered with guns drawn. His wife, whom he was never to see again alive, was trapped there and he was unable to get back in.

As one eyewitness told Hamodia, the U-Haul truck driven by the suspects pulled up “right in front” of his car that was parked outside the store.

“I saw a fellow exit the grocery in a hurry. It seems that he was already on his way out when the perpetrators entered, so he was able to push past them and he ran for his life. Baruch Hashem, he was able to escape.”

Moments later, he himself was caught in a deadly crossfire. He lay down on the floor of his car and called for help. After 20 minutes of unbroken gunfire, he dared lift his head “a bit to see if the police were coming to help me.”

Baruch Hashem, they were. An armored SWAT vehicle “came to a stop a few feet from me and created a safe corridor for me to reach them, and they screamed instructions to run into the truck. It was a few feet away, but I made a dash for it, and I was able to dive into the back where I was safe at last. The team then drove me away to a safe place.”

All the “if-onlys” pile up astoundingly. If only this person hadn’t left when he did, if only that person hadn’t arrived when she did — it would have been different. Somebody who died would have lived. Somebody who lived would have died.

Next door to the JC Kosher Supermarket is a shul and cheder. B’chasdei Shamayim, no one there was harmed, while death was right next door.

But the One who arranges the comings and goings of human beings, and determines on Rosh Hashanah who shall live and who shall die, worked out a cheshbon, a calculus of mortality known only to Him, that renders all the if-onlys irrelevant.

However unexpected the Jersey City shooting was, it comes at a time in Jewish history when such incidents, both in the U.S. and abroad, cannot be described as entirely unexpected. Almost every day, we are witness to another anti-Semitic attack, whether physical or verbal. A person opens a newspaper, clicks on the news, expecting it. Or, if not actually expecting it, not really surprised when the headlines scream of another terror attack, another hate crime.

We must not allow such crimes to go unnoticed or unpunished. We cannot allow the frequency of such outrages to inure and desensitize us.

We have to take such events to heart. None of it is happenstance. Each horrific attack on an individual Jew is an attack on all of us, and a wake-up call to make a cheshbon hanefesh.

As Hamodia goes to press on Wednesday night, levayos were being held in Jersey City and Williamsburg for the victims of Tuesday’s shooting attack in Jersey City.

A grimly familiar pattern repeats itself: Breaking news of a live shooter; then word of casualties; then uncertainties about the details, the identities of the victims and the perpetrators and their motive; then the indications of an anti-Semitic motive.

Although Jersey City police chief Mike Kelly cautioned that it might be weeks, even months before the investigation is completed, revelations about the anti-Semitic background of the killers leaked to the media on Wednesday dramatically diminished any doubts about their motives.

In any case, we must cope with the tragedy somehow. May Hashem give strength to the bereaved families to carry on with faith.

Umachah Hashem dim’ah me’al kol panim.