I’m a Jew, and yet I feel an immense sense of loss caused by the damaging fire at Notre Dame in Paris.
And if you also don’t feel a personal sense of loss, if you don’t have a sense that history has suffered a greater tragedy than you or I may comprehend as the cathedral at Notre Dame was ravaged by fire, perhaps this article will be unappealing to you.
The devastation at Notre Dame has not only left France with a charred monument and a tragedy for all of Christendom, it has given us an epic international incident, as perhaps the destruction of the Taj Mahal mausoleum or the Great Mosque at Mecca might similarly move us to tears.
You see, our humanity is what causes us to feel the tangible outline of that which remains, even though those remains are essentially a void, an empty space. Before there was a tangled mass that was once a masterpiece, there was significance. Beauty. A pulsating relevance. A treasure, to be appreciated by us all. Within the majestic cathedral that was Notre Dame, there was an ability for believers to reach up, to gaze and imagine, and to endure their daily lives by virtue of being enriched just by walking into that imposing structure. For more than eight hundred years, Christians have been moved to silent reverence upon entering Notre Dame, and we cannot, nor should we, lean narrowly and silently at this moment upon our own faith, in denial of the sense of devotion imbued in others to whom those hallowed walls gave great comfort and support.
We are better for respecting the overwhelming sense of loss Christians everywhere felt when they observed flames licking at the wounds of one of their most sacred houses of prayer. We are better for the ability to empathize with all those millions upon millions who have entered Notre Dame over several centuries, and in our doing so, we may hope that our solemn respect for those of another religion will be reciprocal, for there most assuredly will come a time when Christians will once again have the opportunity to embrace or scorn we Jews.
Simply put, we need each other. In a world filled with armed camps and unbridled hatred, with centuries of strife and conflict causing us to war against one another, there seems no end to brutality in sight. The word “humane” clearly comes to mind now, for in direct contrast to the vicious among us, there are those of us who remain moved by the sense of loss felt now by those who practice Christianity. Whether we are Muslim, Buddhist or Jew, we empathize with Christians everywhere.
Can we ignore and forget the transgressions of those who practiced or practice religion as an excuse to stifle others? Absolutely not. That’s like asking a Jew to forget the Holocaust and move on. But at a moment like this, we must pause and draw together. A sense of unity exists within us, and we each bear together a small heartfelt burden as silent witnesses to the fire at Notre Dame.
Will that feeling, that moment of universal camaraderie, last?
No, sadly, it will not.
But just for a fleeting moment, we share the same thought, the same silent moment of sorrow.
And for that moment, we have forgotten our differences and are one.