I wasn't sure how to respond to her.
After the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh over a year ago, Hannah declared that she would no longer go to any synagogue that does not have armed security. The synagogue we normally attend has armed security, so I was able to accommodate her new policy rather easily. But I go to the Kosher market with Hannah every week - and I don't expect them to hire armed guards anytime soon. Should I leave Hannah at home alone when I go to the Kosher market? What kind of message would that send to her?
"We're going to have to be brave," I said gently, and explained that if we stop going to the market, the haters win.
"I'm brave in other ways," Hannah said. She is at once an adventurous child and a cautious one. She will eagerly zipline and rock climb, but she is very careful when it comes to her health and safety.
"We're going to have to be brave in this way." I said.
I felt deeply pained after this conversation. Like many parents, I long to give my children a better life than I had. That's my central motivating principle, and I try to do everything I can to give my kids a joyful life. But in this way, my children's youth is worse than mine was. I never had to worry about going to the kosher market or to synagogue. I never worried about my safety at school after a threat of a shooting on social media, like the threat at my son's school a couple months ago. Never would I have imagined that I would need to give my daughter a pep-talk to go to the grocery store! What has this country come to?
I spoke this morning on the phone with my friend who is Iranian-American and Muslim. We mused: How do we find joy amidst all this sadness? What did it mean for me to be on vacation and celebrate Hanukkah while Jews were being stabbed in New York? What does it mean for her to hope for a Happy New Year when Iranian American citizens are being detained at US airports? How do we live like this?
This week's Torah portion is called Vayechi - and he lived. The portion begins by recounting that Jacob "lived in Egypt for 17 years, and the days of his life were 147 years." This verse contains the two ways the Bible refers to someone's life. Sometimes, the Torah states they "lived" and sometimes, “the days of their years were” a certain number. The text distinguishes between true living and merely existing.
This week, Hannah and I went to the kosher market for the first time since the shooting and her declaration that she wouldn't go. Hannah was scared, and I felt nervous too, but I also felt something else. Before now, going to the market had simply felt like an errand. Now it felt like an act of defiance.
I thought about all the hechsher's on the food in the store - the symbols which certify that the food is Kosher. Of all the products in the world, there is one that should never be given a hechsher -- hatred. When hate becomes acceptable, Pandora's box opens - emboldening all sorts of haters to commit acts of violence.
In painful times, our first instinct is to pull into ourselves - to stay home and lick our wounds. But our tradition teaches us to do precisely the opposite. It calls us to override our natural tendencies - to go to the market and to synagogue - and to reach out not only to those within our faith community but also to those who are different from us.
Amidst all the sadness lately, I find myself urgently hungry for joy and for life, wherever I can find it. This week, the title of the Torah portion "And he lived" no longer seems merely a description but also a command. Live passionately, live defiantly, live lovingly, so you and your descendants may live.