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Interfaith prayer service in the West Valley draws tears and prayers for peace

Shannon Levitt


Barbara Gabriella Sodos uttered only a few words on Tuesday afternoon before she started to cry. Sodos was at Temple Beth Shalom of the West Valley’s (TBS-WV) interfaith prayer service to share her personal experience of the Hamas attack on Israel that began 10 days earlier.

Barbara Gabriella Sodos (left) is the granddaughter of Temple Beth Shalom member Jan Sodos. Barbara lives in Holon, Israel.

Courtesy of Bernie Arum


Jan Sodos, TBS-WV member and Barbara’s grandmother, quietly rose from her seat and walked to the podium in the Sun City sanctuary to offer support and encouragement to her granddaughter once it was clear she could not continue.

Jan told the few hundred attendees about Barbara’s first trip to Israel as a teenager — a bat mitzvah gift from Jan and her husband. Barbara called her at 6 a.m. from the top of Masada to say that when she graduated high school she would return to Israel. She kept her promise and entered the Lone Soldier program. (Lone soldiers are members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) without immediate family in Israel.)


Now Barbara lives in Holon, south of Tel Aviv. She was a platoon medic but blew out her knee during her Lone Soldier service, which is why she is not currently in the battle. She just flew to Arizona from Israel on Monday.

“Since she was 18 months old, she’s been scaring me and that has not changed now that she’s 25,” Jan said.


Finally, with her grandmother’s encouragement, Barbara found her voice and told the crowd about running to the bomb shelters and trying to check in with friends. Her friend lost a cousin but the family didn’t know it for a few days because the body had been “blown to bits” and took time to identify.

“Everyone I know knows someone who’s either missing or dead; our friends are missing,” Barbara said through tears.


“Barbara is a survivor and she will return to Israel, which will prevail,” Jan said.

TBS-WV invited representatives from different religious faiths to come and show solidarity with Israel on Tuesday, Oct. 17. Attendees joined together in prayer for Israel and its citizens, the hostages’ safe return and healing for innocent wounded civilians.

Rev. Sharon Connors of the Unity Spiritual Center in Sun City (left) is shown with Temple Beth Shalom of the West Valley Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan during an interfaith service in support of Israel at Temple Beth Shalom on Oct. 17.

Courtesy of Bernie Arium


“We want to build a large unified interfaith community in the West Valley that will support Israel in its time of need,” said TBS-WV Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan. “The religious leaders gathering together are very different in their religious views and political opinions, and we want to concentrate on the need for prayer in response to the terrible atrocities that Hamas committed against innocent Israeli civilians, foreign tourists, students and agricultural workers.”


Steve Bold, TBS-WV’s board president, said the prayers included “a lot of innocent people in Gaza,” a sentiment Kaplan echoed. Kaplan also reflected on the words of the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who, after recounting some of the horrors of the Hamas attack, asked, “How are we to digest this?” The gathering was one small step in beginning to digest the sad news still coming out of the Jewish state, Kaplan said.


Interspersed with songs, original compositions by TBS-WV Cantor Baruch Koritan, were prayers and brief remarks from religious leaders, including Christians, Jews and a Buddhist. “I made them promise no more than two minutes,” Kaplan quipped.


Ed Casper, a representative of the Soka Gakkai International Nichiren Buddhist community in Phoenix, quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “I’m cognizant of the interrelatedness of all religious communities; injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” “Those words could have been written by a Buddhist teacher,” Casper said. Words have been failing him since he heard of the Hamas attack. “At times, language is simply inadequate.”

Rabbi Mindie Snyder, chaplain for Sun Health Communities Department of Spiritual Life, says a prayer during the interfaith prayer service to stand in solidarity with Israel at Temple Beth Shalom of the West Valley on Oct. 17. Courtesy of Bernie Arum


Rabbi Mindie Snyder, a chaplain for Sun Health Communities, recalled the words of the assassinated Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin: “Enough blood and tears!” and mentioned his commitment to peace. “You must not remain indifferent,” Snyder said.


Rabbi Jeff Lipschultz, chaplain at Avista Hospice Arizona and The Palazzo senior living center, wrote a poem after hearing about the attack on the children of Israel. Lipschultz, who has three sons, wrote to those young people now being sent into battle. “May they march to victory, then come home,” he wrote.


One TBS-WV congregant, a retired dentist, recalled his time in Sderot in the early 1980s working in a dental clinic. He remembered the concrete buildings, all replete with bomb shelters. He also remembered having to learn some basic Hebrew because very few people in the town spoke any English. He learned how to say, “Open your mouth” and ask, “Where does it hurt?” The only problem was he didn’t understand their responses, he joked. After hearing of the Oct. 7 attack, he immediately prayed for Sderot, a town less than the length of a football field away from the Gaza border, and one he has many fond memories of.


A member of a nearby Christian church talked about having visited Israel with a church group and what it was like to see people observing Shabbat and the marvel of walking on the streets of the old city of Jerusalem. He broke down and said his heart breaks for the people of Israel. The crowd applauded him.


Kaplan asked that everyone stand and recite the Mourner’s Kaddish before ending with a benediction and singing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem. JN




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