Rabbis at Boston Marathon shifted to pastor mode

With their headquarters a few blocks from the Marathon bombing site, one Chabad Rabbi found himself in the middle of things.

Boston marathon 370 (photo credit: Brian Snyder/reuters)
Boston marathon 370
(photo credit: Brian Snyder/reuters)
BOSTON – Signing up for the shaliah (emissary) gig in Beantown, Chabad Rabbi Mayer Zarchi probably never thought counseling victims of a terror attack would be part of his job requirements.
But with his headquarters located only a few blocks from the scene of the Boston Marathon bombing site this past Patriots Day, his office near Mass General Hospital where he is a chaplain become a spot frantic runners and spectators could call loved ones after the cellphone lines went down due to high volume.
“People needed help, and we were there to provide it,” Zarchi told The Jerusalem Post.
“It was insane,” said Zarchi, who added that many of the victims appeared “dazed” and “not even crying,” but clearly affected.
At the hospital Zarchi saw victims with amputated limbs along with a lady who was missing her right hand from the blast.
Another Chabad rabbi, Yosef Zaklos, happened to be doing tefillin right “smack in the middle” of the first explosion on Boyalston Street, right across from the Lenox Hotel.
Zaklos, of Chabad of Downtown Boston, said he heard a boom and saw “a fireball go up.”
It was “pandemonium,” said Zaklos. He said people turned east to avoid the first explosion right before the second bomb went off.
Zaklos said that he was in a group that jumped into a nearby bar for refuge.
Zacklos told the Post that he found the “energy for the moment” to stay on scene and help those who were shell-shocked and disoriented from the blasts.
The rabbi said many of the runners who had been stopped were becoming cold.
“It was surreal, definitely,” said Zaklos, who also handed out danishes to first responders and federal investigators.
Like Zarchi, Zaklos is also a chaplain at Mass General Hospital, which Zarchi said has become like a “fortress” after Monday’s bombing.
Casualties from the blasts were spread out among several Boston hospitals in order not to swamp one hospital.
Another rabbi, Seth Phillips, leader of Congregation Keneseth Israel in Allentown, Pennsylvania, had just finished running the marathon when he heard the blast.
Phillips told the Post that even though he heard the boom and saw the blast, many around him thought that a transformer had blown and there had been some sort of accident.
He said it sounded like a saluting gun and only found out later that the explosion had been caused by a bomb.
“As a runner I hope it doesn’t change the sport and prevent crowds from being allowed along the running route,” said Phillips, a 20-year veteran of the US Navy.
“The crowds are the prime motivator [to keep on going]. I couldn’t imagine it without the crowds,” he added.
“It was a beautiful day,” said Zarchi, reflecting. “Everybody was enjoying themselves. The Boston Marathon is one of the great national sporting events. But in a nanosecond, everything transformed.”