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December 21, 2014 / 29 Kislev, 5775
 
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From Sderot To Newtown To Shushan: Placing Tragedy In Perspective

Dreyfus-022213

I have two homes.

My first home is Connecticut, a place of rustling oaks and sprawling backyards. My second home is Israel.

I travel to Israel quite often, my parents and little sister having recently made aliyah. When curious Israelis used to ask where I was from, the response, “Connecticut,” prompted befuddled stares. “Mah? Canada?”

On my most recent visit, the word “Connecticut” elicited a wildly different response. “Connecticut? Do you live near Newtown?”

Hearing those who live a stone’s throw from the Syrian border murmur about the danger of my inconspicuous home state is incredibly unnerving. Before the inexplicable tragedy of the Newtown shooting, I could think of no place more unobtrusive or safer than the suburban haven I knew from my childhood memories.

Newtown was the place we passed on the way to horseback riding lessons. It was neat houses with carefully manicured lawns, two cars parked in the driveway or garage – houses just far enough apart to prevent a stray baseball from breaking a neighbor’s window. It was a place of quiet rocking chairs on white porches, and foliage that changed to magnificent shades of orange and red when summer turned to fall. With the falling leaves, the children of this quiet town were ushered back each year into quiet schools.

When death did come to visit, it did so in a gentle, respectful manner – tapping politely on the shoulder and edging in sidewise, apologizing all the while. Death did not intrude.

I could imagine no place more different from this quiet town than the Israel we read about this past December during the conflict with Gaza. A place where blaring sirens became the norm, alerting citizens that they had mere seconds to reach a bomb shelter. A place where eighteen year olds walk the streets with guns slung as nonchalantly over their shoulders as backpacks. A place where bus drivers eye packages and passengers with wary stares.

But Connecticut? When does Connecticut make headlines?

On that clear-skied Friday morning that sent the world reeling, I was sitting in my dorm room, typing up some last-minute papers. My roommate called to me. CNN was open on her browser, cluttered with pictures of ambulances, security personnel, and bystanders transfixed in horror. Another attack in Israel, I immediately assumed.

But the headline didn’t read Sderot or Tel Aviv. The headline read Connecticut. My expectations floundered, and went black.

As much as it pained me to hear about the children of Sderot running into bomb shelters when the sirens rang, it is what we, the world, had come to expect. The routine of the matter had dulled our senses to the tragedy. Israel, surrounded by unstable, violent regimes, was accustomed to violence. Prepared for violence. Capable of handling violence.

But this quiet town, tucked away between rustling oaks? How to respond when Israeli citizens ask me it is safe to live in Connecticut?

As someone with a deep connection to both the Jewish state and the Nutmeg state, I am in a unique position. The stark irony of the matter settled heavily on my shoulders. The two worlds in which I stand were reversed. What, I asked myself, can I take away from the unexpected role reversal of my two homes?

Purim is fast approaching. One of the holiday’s underlying themes is the concept of v’nahafoch hu – a complete and unexpected reversal of affairs. Everything and anything – from expectations to circumstances to guarantees – can change utterly, in an instant.

The Jews were invitees to a party in the king’s court – switch. The Jews were sealed for complete annihilation – switch. The man who had single-handedly commandeered their tragic sentence was hanged, all his progeny alongside. And the Jews rejoiced: “And in every province and every city…there was joy and gladness for the Jews, a banquet and a festive day” (Esther 8:17).

But why rejoice? We were not restored to our land. One enemy defeated, but could history have foretold the countless tragedies that were yet to befall the Jewish people? A Haman in every generation, threats of annihilation never growing dim.

Would the Jews of Shushan have rejoiced if they knew what was to come?

“God is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” wrote King David (Psalms 27:1). When there seems no safe spot left in the world, when even a quaint New England town is under fire, we turn and seek refuge Above. The real celebration of v’nahafoch hu reaffirms our trust in the only Source of true stability and safety.

We rejoice in the recognition that God is in control, no matter what and no matter where. It is this realization that is the source of uncontainable, unshakable joy.

Sometimes it takes the ground underneath our feet shifting to realize we never were standing on solid ground after all. Sometimes it takes the complete reversal of expectations to realize expectations never were meant to be depended upon.

“I’m from Connecticut,” I tell curious Israeli inquirers. Near Newtown? Yes. Near Newtown. Are you scared to go back? No. I’m not scared.

“Are you scared to live here?” I ask in return. Here, surrounded by enemies? Here, surrounded by constant contention and controversy? No. We’re not scared.

God is watching both my homes.

About the Author: Hannah Dreyfus is a junior at Stern College for Women majoring in journalism. She currently works as managing editor of the YU Observer and an editorial intern for The Jewish Week. Her work has appeared on Aish.com, The Times of Israel website, and in The Jewish Press. She hopes to pursue a joint degree in journalism and law.


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