Cantor of San Diego Synagogue Heading to Israel to Join Reserve Unit Amid Hamas War

Cantor Hanan Leberman of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Carlos.  Photo via San Diego J
Cantor Hanan Leberman of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Carlos. Photo via San Diego Jewish World

Cantor Hanan Leberman of San Diego’s Tifereth Israel Synagogue bade his congregation an emotional goodbye Sunday as he prepared to return to Israel to join his IDF Reserve unit preparing for whatever may come in the war with Hamas.

He said his family members will rendezvous at his wife’s former home in Philadelphia. From there, he will fly alone to Israel.

Leberman told many scores of viewers on a Zoom call that he anticipates he will be back with his military unit by next Shabbat — Friday night.

He related that he first learned of the carnage wrought by Hamas on residents of southern Israel when he received a phone call from his wife — which he knew must have signaled an emergency because ordinarily she would not have used the phone on Shabbat.

His wife called from a bomb shelter. Next, he learned that a close friend had been killed trying to rescue hostages from Hamas terrorists.

Never before have Israelis been so united and determined to rid the world of Hamas terrorists, he said. There have been Haredim, who normally seek exemptions from military service, trying to join the Israeli Defense Force to help, he said.

People too young or old to serve in the military are volunteering in many ways, including sitting shiva with the families of the approximately 1,300 people killed in Hamas’ surprise attack.

The unity includes “Haredi, secular, settlers and left-wing Israelis,” Leberman said. The emergency war cabinet led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now includes member of the political opposition, including former Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

He noted that Ecclesiastes says there is a “time for war, and a time for peace.” Israelis are united that this is appropriately a time for war, a time to protect their neighbors from further annihilation by their enemies.

He said the difference between the current situation and the pogroms of the past is that today the Jewish people have a nation with an army to protect them.

“In Israel, everyone believes it is the right thing,” Leberman said. “Even some Arabs are in agreement.”

Leberman expressed dismay over the “lies and spin” he hears from “pro-Palestinan, pro-Hamas people.”

Hamas has some 200 Israelis hostage, he said.

“There’s no reason why Israel should give its water and electricity to a population that harbors Hamas,” he said.

Families of hostages and the missing are forcing themselves to look at Hamas videos that show horrific images of killing, to see if their family members are among the shown victims.

He said that rather than receiving credit for permitting Gaza civilians to move to safety south of the Wadi Gaza, international media criticize Israel.

Yet Israel is one of the few countries — perhaps the only one —that in warfare warns the enemy where it is planning to attack, so that civilians can get out of the way.

If Palestinian civilians are nevertheless killed in this war, he added, “the blood is on the hands of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Iran.”

While he feels bad for the Palestinians — especially the children — he said he feels worse for those Israeli children, mothers and elderly who were slaughtered by Hamas last Saturday, Shabbat, a day that is supposed to be one of peace.

When your enemies are barbaric, he said, you have to deal with them.

Asked via Zoom chat where people should donate, he mentioned that in the short run such organizations that treat the wounded as Magen David Adom and Hatzalah.

Later, he said, there will be a need for donations to groups offering therapy for those who will be traumatized by the war. There also will be a need for donations to help rebuild the southern part of Israel, the location of Sha’ar Hanegev, the partnership region for the Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

Leberman lives in Jerusalem, but flies to Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Carlos several times a year to serve as a cantor and as a teacher.

Donald H. Harrison is editor emeritus of San Diego Jewish World. A version of this report originally appeared there.