Best weapons against hatred? Bravery, togetherness, inspiration and forgiveness


Fran Ostendorf, EditorA lot has happened in the world since the last issue of The Jewish Voice. Right around the time our community here was celebrating Shabbat, terrible things were happening in Paris. The aftermath of those attacks was horrible. More than 100 killed and several hundred injured, many seriously. Brutal, horrific murders and assaults. While most of the attackers are dead, the search continues across Europe for those who likely aided them.

As I write this, I’m hoping the concerns about more attacks here, in Belgium and elsewhere prove to be unfounded or are defeated by authorities.

Living in fear is an awful thing. It can affect people and societies in ways we may not even be aware of. It can distort our view of the world and each other and foster ever more hatred.

We think about those who live with those daily worries in Israel where almost every day brings new reports of terrorist attacks like the one that took the life of Ezra Schwartz, the teenager from Sharon, Massachusetts, spending a gap year in Israel, when he become the victim of a terrorist’s bullet.

We are lucky to have relatively few such worries here in the U.S. It is startling to see Belgium deploy a military response to the threats. Subways are shut down. Schools have closed. I would hate to see us ever reach those levels here.

There are those who have tried to capitalize on this fear and uncertainty by advocating their own agendas of hate and distrust. Is the answer to all this hate-based violence really hate and mistrust in another form?

It’s up to each of us to decide.

During this season of thanks, I prefer to focus on the reactions of some of the victims who showed stunning strength in the wake of the Paris attacks. Some of their stories are particularly touching and inspirational.

There was the husband of a Paris attack victim who sent a defiant message to ISIS: “I will not grant you the gift of my hatred,” is what Antoine Leiris wrote in a Facebook post three days after the attacks. His wife Helene was killed at the Bataclan concert hall. As of Nov. 16, 35,000 people had shared his post.

And the video of Angel Le comforting  his young son who worried about the guns. “They have guns, but we have flowers,” he tells the boy. He explains that the flowers will protect against the guns and the candles will help make sure that nobody is forgotten. His son then responded that he feels safer now.

Instead of fear and hostility, I hope the end result of all this is that more people are inspired by those who took the opportunity to turn the violence into something pure and genuine and forgiving. Let’s keep our focus on those messages because these people are rising as role models in the face of grief and hatred.

As you light Shabbat candles and the candles at Hanukkah, let’s hope that the lights we share spread around the world to counter hate, violence, bigotry and fear. As all the candles we light in the coming weeks burn brightly together, let them help us realize we are all stronger together as well.