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Reflections on a Tragedy



Yesterday morning, I awoke to discover that another terrorist bombing in Jerusalem had killed twenty people. The same city, the same bus route, the same time of day, the same death toll, the same despicable group of terrorists. I would say that it is a recurring nightmare, except that it is real.

Everything is the same as before. And yet our emotional and psychological response cannot be the same. Coming so closely on the heels of last week's bombings, terror and violence against Israelis seem ingrained in the natural order of things. We wake up, we get dressed, we eat breakfast and another bus of innocent civilians is blown up. Contemplating such a future, such a way of life, brings me to the point of despair.

Last week, upon hearing of the bombing, I sat down to draft a letter for The Crimson on behalf of Harvard-Radcliffe Hillel. All the things I wrote then apply to this situation as well. We bitterly mourn the deaths of the victims. We express our outrage and pour out our wrath upon Hamas, whose cruelty, inhumanity and hatred of the Jewish people knows no bounds. We demand that all possible steps be taken in order to apprehend these terrorists and to prevent such tragedies from occurring again. And "we hope and pray that the dream of peace may one day become a reality."

All of this is the same. And yet it is different. Last week it was possible to look at the bombing as a random act of violence, the sort of thing that will inevitably happen every few months. But now it is not as easy to bury our dead and to move on. Despair is deeper. Optimism and hope are waning.

It is ironic, or perhaps fitting, that this tragedy should have occurred immediately before the holiday of Purim, which begins tonight. As recorded in the biblical book of Esther, Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from a massacre plotted by Haman, an enemy of the Jews.

It is difficult to even think about celebrating deliverance in light of yesterday's events. At a time when so much blood has been spilled, when many Jewish lives are in danger, such salvation seems very far away. How is it possible to mourn on one day and be joyful on the next?

The holiday of Purim itself embodies this sort of juxtaposition. As the book of Esther tells us, the day upon which the massacre was to have occurred "was turned from sorrow to joy, and from mourning to holiday." The day before Purim is traditionally observed as a fast day, which serves to remind us of the terribly real danger that the Jews faced, and of how narrowly the massacre was averted. Purim is not merely a celebration; it is a transformation of great sorrow into joy.

Such a pattern is repeated in a number of other Jewish rituals and holidays. For instance, Yom Ha'Aztmaut, Israeli Independence Day, is immediately preceded by Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, which commemorates all those who fell in defense of Israel. One goes immediately from sorrow to gladness.

It is to these examples that I turn when I try to cope with this week's tragic events. After mourning today, we must celebrate Purim in some way despite what has happened--and because of it. For to do so is an affirmation of life. It is an expression of our faith that things can and will get better.

It is also a gesture of defiance. To those who seek our destruction, and to those who have sought it in generations past, we declare that acts of terror cannot shatter our hopes for a better future. The purpose of the bombings was to plunge us into confusion and hopeless despair. We must mourn and recognize the tragedy in all of its enormity, but we must also carry on.

And so, when we sing and dance tonight, our voices will be softer and our steps heavier. But we will go on, with life and with living. For we must go on.

It is the Jewish way.

It is the only way.

David J. Andorsky is chair of Harvard-Radcliffe Hillel.

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