A friend of mine texted me on Thursday out of the blue to ask me if I was okay. I had not heard from her in ages. Not knowing what she was referring to, I wrote back that, thank G-d, I was fine. Was everything okay on her end? Immediately, my phone rang.
“Didn’t you hear the news?” she asked me.
“What news? I’ve been working all day; what happened?” I immediately thought of Jerusalem. Not again. Please not again.
Yes, again, but not where I expected it to be.
San Bernardino. 14 dead. 21 injured. Knowing that I live in Southern California, she worried for my safety. Huntington Beach and San Bernadino are more than two hours away from each other. They might as well be a world apart. I haven’t been to San Bernadino in years. But suddenly, it felt like it was only an arm’s length away from me. Suddenly, San Bernardino was my own backyard.
A recent news report shared that there were more mass shootings in the United States this year than days on the calendar. For every day of the year and more, there have been attacks in this country that have taken the lives of hundreds of people. I’ve watched the news in horror over the past year as attacks have swept across the nation. Though I am embarrassed to say it, I always assumed that these atrocities would never make their way to California. But this week, they did. Once again, my perspective on life and my faith in humanity has shattered. Once again, this event proves that I must continue to put my faith in G-d, not in man.
“I can’t believe this happened,” one friend said when I spoke to her later in the evening.
“In California, of all places,” said another.
“I feel safer in Israel,” said another. At least there, we know what we’re up against.
My friends could not believe that something so horrible would make its way to our state. But, of course it could happen here. If it could happen in Sandy Hook, in Colorado, in New York, in Paris, in Israel…shall I continue? It’s time for us to open our eyes. It’s happening everywhere.
Our discussion immediately turned to the upcoming Chanukah events we are all set to attend in the upcoming week. Suddenly, it dawned on us that if it could happen—and it did happen–in California, then what would stop it from happening again, only miles away from the attack in San Bernardino?
Will there be security? Should we consider canceling? Maybe we should host a smaller event indoors? Questions swirl around like a heavy wind.
To tell you that I live without fear in a world that is so full of hate, suffering, and pain would be a lie. As Isabel Allende so eloquently put it: “Evil is loud.” We live in a very loud world, where the strongest voice that currently dominates the airways seems to be evil. Hate. Destruction. Chaos. Tohu v’vohu.
Evil is loud. But we, as Jews can be louder. And if there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s make noise. Kindness can be louder. I am not talking about the kind of noise that causes one to cover their ears and shriek in pain. I’m talking about the kind of volume that can unleash a different aspect of noise—one of love, respect, and joy, a world of ki tov.
I cannot claim to know what the future holds. But I can claim to see a side of humanity that is kinder than what the news portrays. I can claim to have seen faith with my own eyes. It is now more than ever that I recognize the undeniable need to put my truth and faith in Hashem. I know that if I live with fear in my heart, the noise of evil will overcome my senses, and I will lose the battle.
Chanukah begins at sundown tonight. Around the world, Jews of all backgrounds will welcome in the holiday of light, the holiday of hope. As you light your menorah tonight, wherever you are in the world, I hope you—like I—will take a moment to pray that the miracle of Chanukah that we’ve carried in our hearts as a nation for thousands of years continues to inspire and uplift us during these difficult times. We may not have much, but we have hope and faith, and that’s a good place to start. Evil and fear will not succeed if we don’t allow them to.
Like many lessons learned from our ancestors, we must take the story of Chanukah into our hearts—not as a myth or a tale of what happened long ago—but as an example of who we must be in modern times. In these days, in these hours of strife and heartache, we can become the Maccabis of our generation, and fight off the most difficult and harsh enemies, even if we are small in numbers. We can—and we will—be the torchbearers that carry the light onto the nations, and continue to make the world a brighter place.