It's been a couple weeks, and yet the recent shootings targeting Jewish institutions in Kansas still loom large for me.
Perhaps because I was coincidentally in Overland Park, Kansas at the time of the shootings. Perhaps not. Every time we hear about these atrocities around the country, they're hard to shake off.
This time around, my immediate family had just arrived in Overland Park, the day before the first seder, which we were to spend with extended family. Soon after we got to Kansas, my friend back in Chicago texted me, less than an hour after the JCC and senior center shootings. "You're not in Kansas yet, are you? This is so scary," she texted with a link to a sketchy news brief about the shootings, before we knew who the perpetrator was.
We had just checked into our hotel not too far from the scenes of the crimes, and the gunman was still at large at the time. We worried about leaving our hotel until we knew more. If we didn't go soon, we'd be late for a first birthday party.
When the suspect, Frazier Glenn Miller, was captured, we ventured out to the party. We tried to push the tragic news to the back of our minds long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" and watch the baby sample icing for the first time.
Then the kids at the party, all under age 10, played Wii and Nerf basketball in the basement, while most of the adults went upstairs to watch a televised press conference about the shootings.
Only one floor level separated the kids from the adults, but it felt like a world apart. Downstairs, the children played in carefree chaos, insulated in a bubble of innocence, while upstairs we listened in stunned silence to the news of the cold reality of the violent world in which we live.
The kids didn't know what we knew--at least for a little while longer.
We managed to shield them during our stay in Kansas from the wall to wall coverage of the story of the slain victims.
Pesach is a holiday of questioning, and I've got questions of my own:
What if we lived in a world where our kids didn't have to grow up to discover that hate didn't stop when we left Egypt?
What if we didn't fear for our safety when we went to work and school each day?
What if we all recognized there is beauty in what makes each of us different--and similar?
The next night, Jews across the world--from Chicago to Overland Park to Jerusalem--gathered for the first seder. In this town, and at this time, as in so many other times in Jewish history, the plagues of hate, bigotry, and violence occupied our thoughts, along with frogs, hail, and pestilence.
But then, as we sang "Dayenu," and the blending fragrances of bitter herbs, chicken soup, and candles wafted through the air, something made me smile; I looked around the room at my nephews freshly bathed and combed, donning their plaid button downs, and the little girls wearing frilly dresses with floral headbands to make this night different from all other nights, still yet to spill Welches down their seder best.
"In every generation," we read on Pesach, "they rise up against us to destroy us." Pharaoh tried. Hitler tried. And now even Fraizer Glenn Miller tried. But they can't break our spirit. They can't break us.
I gave my nephews bigger bedtime hugs than usual that night.
The Columbines. The Sandy Hooks. The Overland Parks. The list goes on and on and on. Each time, they're wake up calls to remind us to hold our children, to hold all of our loved ones, a little closer.
I have an assignment for you: Drop whatever you're doing. I promise, this will be better.
Okay, now go find your favorite people, the people who matter most to you. Whether it's in person, on the phone, in a letter, or even by text, tell those people what they mean to you.
See, I told you it was worth it.