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Hanukkah Menorah Symbolizes Prayer Vigil

On the seventh night of Hanukkah, we lit the candles on the menorah to commemorate the miracle of our ancestors, but it was also a prayer vigil for the lives lost in yesterday’s Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown. People of all faiths from all over the world light candles as our hearts ache collectively for the families of the 20 innocent first graders and six adults, who were shot point-blank by a 20-year-old madman dressed in combat gear and armed with semiautomatic weapons. As details of the latest school shooting unfold, parents everywhere try to deal with their own feelings of fear, despair, and confusion as we struggle to find the best way to explain (or not explain) to our own kids what is happening in our world that seems to be falling apart. I felt this same way when I wrote about Virginia Tech and the Israeli war. Things haven’t changed.

With the holiday season upon us, and presents are left for children who are gone forever, it’s impossible to wrap our heads around another senseless tragedy—the second deadliest school shooting behind Virginia Tech in U.S. history. We’re vulnerable everywhere we go—school, mall, movie theatre, workplace, airplane, a political rally.

A nation in shock, we ‘re quick to blame someone, something besides good versus evil. Political discussions abrupt again about how to improve school safety, gun control laws, mental health care, dysfunctional families, violent video games, social media, and on and on.

And yet one thing has always remained the same. God. Whatever your religious or atheistic beliefs, many of us fall to our knees and surrender to something bigger—call it God, Divinity, Buddah, Muhammad, Spirit—otherwise we can’t cope alone. God did not let this happen. People did. And we need each other to heal. We are the problem, and we are the solution.

So many of us turn to our faith when we’re obligated to (the high holidays, Christmas, a wedding, a funeral) or when we hit rock bottom. But the lesson here is to keep God in our hearts, always. And by this I mean not just prayer, but action. For example, notice how communities come together in times of crisis. When disaster strikes, whether it be Hurricane Sandy, 9-11 terrorist attack, or a siege on a quite New England town in Connecticut, we hug each other, we feed each other, we listen, we clean up, we mourn, we give money, we give ourselves.

In the words of Mr. Rogers:  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

And in the words of Rabbi Shaul Praver, of Temple Adath Israel in Newtown, who attended to the family of 6-year-old Noah Pozner, “Death doesn’t really exist — it’s just a transformation because we all come from God and everything in the world is from God.”

He continues, “At the same time we’re in a very dark place, we’re in a very sacred place. Everybody, for the last two days, are brothers and sisters. You can hug strangers in the street.

And, finally, in the words of Kohelet in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to plug up that which is planted;
 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
 A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”