A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

On Friday night, my family and I attended a Shabbat dinner at our local synagogue. Shabbat – the Sabbath day – is observed on Friday night through Saturday evening in Judaism. It commemorates the seventh day of creation, when the Bible says that God rested after having spent the previous six days creating the world. Jews observe the day by taking a break from their regular, day-to-day activities to pray and spend time with family and friends.

The dinner was sponsored by the synagogue religious school and preschool and my wife happened to be one of the organizers for the event. Approximately forty families from the synagogue school community came together to pray, eat and enjoy each other’s company. The event started with the usual Friday evening prayer service and then led into the Shabbat meal. Parents shepherded their children into the synagogue ballroom, where tables had been prepared for the meal. The rabbi led the group in singing Shalom Aleichem,1 recited the kiddush, the blessing over the wine, and helped all of the parents recite the ritual Shabbat blessings for their children.

The evening was beautiful. We got to spend time together, not only as a family of three, but as a community. My wife and I end up working into the evening so frequently that eating dinners together as a family are rare occurrences during the week. Shabbat, though, is a sacred time that we use to be together as a family. The dinner at the synagogue gave us the opportunity to reconnect, not only with each other, but also with our friends.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

On Friday evening, in Paris, France, at 9:20 PM, local time, two bombs exploded moments apart at Stade de France, a stadium where France was playing Germany in a soccer match.2 Over the next half hour, terrorists carried out additional attacks using bombs, shrapnel and assault weapons at four different Paris restaurants and Bataclan, a small concert hall where the American band, Eagles of Death Metal, had been performing. By the time the terrorists had been subdued, 129 people had been killed and over 350 people had been wounded. The world watched as information began to emerge about the terrorists and the lengths to which they had gone to create fear and to publicize their messages of hate.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Even though the attacks began around 4:20 PM Eastern Time, I had not heard anything about them until much later in the evening. I came home a bit early from work that afternoon so that I could spend some time with my wife and son before we had to leave to get to the synagogue to finish off the last-minute preparations for the dinner. In fact, it was not until at least halfway through the actual dinner – probably around 8:00 or so – that I heard anything about the attacks.

It was a flashbulb memory, to be sure. I know that, years later, I will be able to remember the exact spot where I had been sitting when Trudy told me about the tragedy that had taken place in Paris earlier that day. I will be able to feel my elbows leaning on the table and my chin resting on my fists as my eyes, tired from the week of work that had just finished, stared lazily into space and then suddenly became laser focused.

I’ll remember the feeling of ease and relaxation that I always appreciate so much during the singing of the Shabbat evening prayer services. I’ll remember the connection between Trudy, Eitan and me as Trudy and I placed our hands on Eitan’s head to give him his weekly blessing. And I’ll remember the way my shoulders suddenly tightened and my heart sank as I heard the news.

I’ll remember wondering how it was possible that people could be inflicting such terrible pain at the same time as such wonderful experiences were being created. I’ll remember wondering how people could perpetrate such terrible acts at all. I’ll remember feeling utter sadness as I realized that I was starting to feel somewhat numb to the idea of this type of a tragedy, since I had already lost count of the violent acts that had been carried out in the few years since Eitan was born.

Most importantly, though, I’ll remember the silent determination, the internal resolution, to keep teaching Eitan about love and respect for other people, no matter what evil they might try to carry out against him or anyone else. I’ll remember that Eitan has a pure, empathetic heart that is destined to make the world a better place. I’ll remember how thankful I am to have my family and my friends around to help me try to make sense of the circumstances that some people face on a daily basis.

I’ll remember reinforcing my decision to help Eitan see the best of times, even when it feels like the worst of times.


1. Shalom Aleichem is a Hebrew song that portrays the singers welcoming angels into their midst to celebrate the arrival of Shabbat.

2. My notes about the timeline of the attacks came from here.

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