18 November 2015
It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
Last February, I went to Paris as part of a national JFNA mission to stand in solidarity with the people of France and its Jewish community following the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher Supermarket massacres. Outside Hyper Cacher were hundreds of candles and flowers, a moving tribute to those who died at the hands of jihadist terrorists. I saw the same images this week in the wake of last Friday’s barbaric murders by Islamist terrorists of 129 people in Paris – candles and memorials outside of restaurants and a concert hall. Facebook is also “lighting up” with the tri-color French flag overlaid on profile photos in solidarity with the people of France.
Candles and social media expressions of support may reflect our feeling of powerlessness against such evil as we wonder what we can do. But they are not enough.
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitze, we read the word makom (place) seven times as Jacob moves from place to place, finding a way to connect with God. Throughout our lives, we each strive to find our own makom, our own place in society and in our community. Defining ourselves has never been an easy task. When we were children, we often compared ourselves to those closest to us in order to help measure our worth and define ourselves. Growing up, we learned how to define our own identities – as does Jacob – by moving away from our parents and creating a new life for ourselves.
At this moment in history, our makom – our place – is with those who stand for freedom, democracy and tolerance and against those who promote tyranny, suppression and hatred. The jihadist terrorist attacks in France nearly a year ago took aim at the free press and the Jewish community. The ISIS attacks last week targeted a soccer game and the simple pleasures of civilization – a soccer game, a concert and restaurants. It as an attempt to disrupt ways of life that are reflective of a free and open society.
Lighting candles – as we will do in less than three weeks in celebration of Chanukah – is an important part of Jewish ritual (including Shabbat, Havdalah and yahrzeit candles). In fact, we are commanded to place our Chanukah menorahs in the window for all to see. We should certainly continue to do so with pride and to light candles in solidarity with terror victims and their families.
But it will take more than candles to defeat terrorism.
It will require elected officials and security forces of all countries to fight terrorism locally and around the world. It will take standing firm in the makom of freedom and tolerance. It requires standing strong with our friends and allies to defeat tyranny. It will take powerful words of support for those who stand with us. And, most of all, it requires strong and decisive action by representatives of all races and religions to work together to defend the values of an open, pluralistic society such as we have here in America. Only then will we be able to overcome the darkness.