In the wake of tragedy after tragedy, I struggle as a rabbi and as a parent not to stay stuck in the rabbit hole of fear and pain. The way that I do that is by concentrating on a vision for the future. I think about what my children, now 3-years-old and 5-years-old, respectively, will one day tell their own children about this time.
I imagine one of my daughters, ripe in age, sitting among her adult children and her own young grandchildren. She will say:
The world wasn’t always the way it is now.
When I was a baby, and when I was 2, and 4, and 10years-old, the world was dangerous.
Tell us more, her children will say.
And my daughter will search her mind, remembering. Her schooling and her faith were intertwined with police security. There were marches. Polarized politics so full of vitriol that family and friends struggled to converse around common ground. Children committed suicide. There was shooting after shooting after shooting. Hope was hard to come by because the common feeling was one of helplessness and powerlessness about how to change the painful state of our world.
Tell us more, her grandchildren will say.
Leaning in, she will explain, that though the state of the world was tumultuous, there were some people who gave everything in exchange for a new paradigm. My daughter will tell them: my parents responded to pain in our world in three tangible ways:
1. They promised the impossible
In a time when there was no guarantee of security, they never stopped telling me that I was safe. They participated and co-created a community that valued physical, spiritual and emotional safety, without abdicating our need to be free and creative.
2. They showed up regularly in Jewish spaces
Even though it meant a more dangerous life to live proudly as a Jew, they chose to double down on their value of raising us in love. All through our childhood, nearly every day, we were in Jewish educational, religious and institutional spaces. Our faith reminding us of our history and our responsibility to our future.
3. They loved their neighbors
As fervently as they lived their Jewish identity, my parents actively reached outside their comfort zones. They built deep lasting friendships with people of different religious, racial and economic backgrounds. They broke bread together. Stood in allyship together. And actively strove to dismantle the barrier between concepts like “us” and “them.”
This wasn’t easy, she will say.
They had to fight with every fiber of their being. Protesting in the streets, organizing people around power, promoting ballot initiatives, encouraging voting… sometimes going so far as getting arrested for what they thought was right. They lit Shabbat candles, gave tzedakah (charity) generously, prayed, and practiced mitzvot (commandments) even when it would have been easier to hide from their Jewish identity. They befriended people with different political points of views, they sought out unconventional friendships… and built the impossible, which is the world that we live in today. One of peace and possibility, a country where love triumphs over hate in every aspect.
Then, leaning close to my grandchildren, my daughter will tell them:
Your grandparents did not accept the world as it was when I was small.
This is your legacy.
A heritage of generation after generation after generation as old as the Torah and as young as you, who chose hope when it made every sense to surrender to fear. So listen closely my sweet children, never ever dismiss your ability to make a difference. Your ability to counter suffering with love is a skill baked deep into your DNA, our people’s gift to you. Love is both your duty and your superpower.
Sometimes the best way to know what to do next is to figure out how the story ends. Then, work backwards one step at a time until you reach your starting point. Knowing that the last line is love gives us energy for this moment, and the many moments that follow.