When I saw the Cathedral of Notre Dame aflame, I first hoped that no one was trapped inside. I then thought of the 850-year history of such a magnificent edifice, built as a sacred space to praise God, and how much history was contained within its’ walls. The pain that Catholics, not merely in Paris, but throughout the world felt, especially with Easter only a few more days away, must have been very deep. Hearing people on the street chanting hymns was a stark reminder that upon great tribulations, we turn to our faith to give us strength.
The images before me gave me some perspective on what it must have been for our ancestors to see the Holy Temple in Jerusalem up in flames, destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. This magnificent structure stood for 1,000 years, and I have no doubt that the Israelites who witnessed this most likely responded the same way as today. The impact of this destruction was so deep that our prayers continued to offer hopes and aspirations that one day we will return to our ancestral home, where a Jewish presence has existed for 3,000 years.
I pray that the damage to the Cathedral of Notre Dame is not too severe, that it can be rebuilt to its’ former glory, for I certainly understand what challenges lie ahead to restore a holy building to former glory, albeit my story is a bit different. Good people from across the globe have reached out in support, just as they have to us. It is reassuring to be reminded that the vast majority of people on this planet are good, decent people.
As we approach Passover, many have asked me what will be different in my Seder this year, and no, this does not count as one of the “Four Questions”. I have always been inspired to add new elements and conversation to the Seder, as it is an organic, interactive experience. Most people have a cup of wine for Elijah, extending an invitation to the prophet to visit, in the hopes of ushering in a better world. Some even save him a seat, as is also done at the Brit Milah (ritual circumcision). However, at my Seder this year, there will be an empty seat, as I know that there will be families from our three congregations who will also have one, even two, empty seats. I continue to feel the loss, and offer this simple gesture to remember eleven beautiful souls. I continue to hope that although he tarries, nevertheless Elijah will arrive, in which case I will gladly let him take that empty seat.
To my Christian friends, I wish you a blessed Easter. To my Jewish friends, I wish you a sweet Passover.