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Yonatan Yussman

JHSC Friends,

I've received several emails asking whether it is appropriate to still have the JHSC comedic theater production on Monday night, in light of the tragedy that happened in Newtown. It's an appropriate question to ask. The deepest spiritual questions in Judaism have to do with how we live our lives in a world that is often difficult to comprehend. This is the crux of the Judaic Studies curriculum we're teaching at the Jewish High School of Connecticut.

It's been hard for me to even look at news of the murders in Newtown. When I got the newspaper today and saw the headlines about what happened, I just turned it over so I wouldn't have to look at it. I went back to watching my own three little children play in the living room, and just stared at them for a long time.

How are we supposed to approach life when little children are murdered? When teachers and a principal are killed? Things like this turn the whole issue of the meaning of life and death on its head. I'd like to offer a Jewish spiritual response to this heinous crime.

There's a story from the Jewish wisdom literature about "the mirrors of passion": The Jews lived a harsh life as slaves in Egypt. For hundreds of years, they encountered constant death, pain, and suffering. Perhaps understandably, the Jewish men gave up trying to have children-the pain of life was just too unbearable. But the Jewish wives used their "mirrors of passion" to make themselves look nice, and they successfully enticed their husbands for sexual intimacy, even in those most miserable of conditions...And the Jewish people managed to continue on, generation after generation, due to the women ensuring our continuity.

When the Jews eventually escaped slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the Sinai desert before entering Israel. They were commanded to build a desert tabernacle, and the Jewish women wanted to take part in building this divine sanctuary. So they gave Moses their "mirrors of passion" to be used in erecting the tabernacle.

Moses said "I won't accept your gifts! How can you bring me your mirrors of passion! This is a holy Temple!" But G-d came to Moses and chastised him. G-d said: "You don't understand, Moses. Thesemirrors of passion are the deepest expression of clinging to the value of life even in the face of death. They affirm that life is holy. They are the most treasured of gifts given to build the Tabernacle."

Let me give you an example. Two of my friends and classmates in Israel, Ben Blutstein and Marla Bennett, were killed in a suicide bombing in 2002. Just days after their excruciatingly painful funeral, another mutual friend and classmate was supposed to get married by the same rabbi who officiated at Ben and Marla's funerals. Many in the community debated if the wedding should be postponed.

But the Jewish community responded that when faced with death, we add life! When faced with destruction, we build! When faced with hate, we make love! The wedding went on. However, everyone also made a place at the wedding-and in our hearts-for grief and pain, for weeping and sorrow.

So how can we respond to the tragedy in Newtown? We can learn from the "mirrors of passion" and shout out loud that every second of our lives is precious and has ultimate value, even when we're faced with death. We will feel the pain deeply, but we will also keep building, just like the Jews did when they built the desert tabernacle. The show must go on.

I sit here with a heavy heart, but knowing that we need to continue to live our lives to the fullest. I'd like to bless us all that we live long, healthy lives, and that we live our days with the most profound joy and happiness, intermingled with acknowledgment of the pain and suffering in this world, and that we value and celebrate every second of our holy lives.

With blessings,

Rabbi Yonatan Yussman, Ed.D.

Head of School

Jewish High School of Connecticut