We’re all humans. We’re meaning making creatures. We define ourselves by our stories, our myths. In a fundamental sense, we are, despite the assumptions of so much economic theory, non-rational creatures. Feelings are real to us. And, so then, are the symbols we attach to them.
That’s what Pesach is all about. It doesn’t necessarily matter what did or didn’t happen in the desert millenia ago — what matters is that we keep telling the story, across the generations. What makes us Jews is we are part of a people that others for countless centuries have tried to wipe out, enslave, exploit and assimilate. But the ancient Egyptians and Romans are long gone. We’re still here. And now pass the haroset.
And that’s what Notre Dame is all about. That’s why it hurts so much to so many people and why there’s such a great outpouring of support to rebuild it. It stands for something. Even for the most atheist of French people, it stands for something about who they are as French or as Parisians. And when its roof fell, it was like a piece of their very being was torn away.
I’ve never been there, but I’ve been to the Kotel, the Western Wall. And I felt deep, crippling grief when the Twin Towers — I worked in Tower 2 on the 27th floor for 10 years — fell, even though not a single person I cared for died that terrible September day. It was like someone cut a piece of me away.
I used to feel guilty about that — that I cried for the buildings more than the people who died and suffered. But I don’t anymore. Now I know that my response was human. Places, and the feelings, stories and symbols we attach to them, are real. They make up who we are. Part of me was killed that day by those terrible fires in lower Manhattan.
So, please, don’t make it out like those who want to give money to rebuild Notre Dame are all heartless and don’t care about human suffering in the world (see this New York Times story about the rich donating to Notre Dame). Notre Dame means something dear to them, whether it has to do with France or what they believe about the Blessed Holy One. Giving money to restore this thing once lost to renewed wholeness is a belief statement. It’s about faith.
As we approach our Feast of Freedom on Friday night, I hope everyone will have opportunity to re-embrace the symbols that are dear to them, that define them as humans, as Jews and as people who work for the good. And may we all know redemption. And healing. Redemption and healing for all. At our Seder table, for our families, for all Jews. And for all the people of this broken Earth that knows so many consuming fires of both flesh and our sacred places. Peace.