lighting candles

Praying For My Children After Charleston

Week after week, I light two small candles. I move behind my children and put one hand on each of their heads and I begin my prayer: Y’varech’cha Adonai V’yishmerecha. I ask that they be blessed and kept safe, favored and granted peace. I kiss each child on the forehead, oldest to youngest, as if my kiss affords them my own protection, and then give them into the keeping of a new week, bending towards a new Shabbat, where I will give them this blessing again.

It is an incredible act of hope, celebrating the week that has come and anticipating a week we are sure will follow. Shabbat after Shabbat, I have asked and prayed that my children be safe in the week to come.

Last week, I begged.

Last week, I truly realized that I cannot keep my children safe.

When I was a very new parent, I used to jolt awake in the middle of the night and turn to the newborn at my side. I strained to hear her almost inaudible breathing, to mark the movement of her chest in the half-darkness. To lie there and witness her existence was to keep her safe, and no sane or logical argument could have convinced me otherwise. That was my job, to protect the tiny, fragile creature that a creator with a lovely sense of humor had, implausibly, given into my exclusive care.

When I saw the words “Charleston” and “Massacre,” I thought, at once, of four little Birmingham girls going to Sunday school and then never coming home again. They were four innocent children whose parents would have given anything to keep them safe and alive and whole. A man carrying on the same hate that murdered those children had just walked into a place of peace and prayer and massacred nine more innocents.

Watching the first images filter in, I thought of stealing into my children’s bedrooms, to, for a moment, watch them sleep, and feel, again, that I was protecting them just by being there. But I can’t. I can protect them from hunger and rain, I can give them all the love I have, but I cannot protect them from this naked hatred. I have given them my singing voice, my nearsightedness, and the heritage of a people whose suffering gave birth to the blues, who, I once believed, had already demanded and received their freedom generations ago. And, with this, I passed on to them a danger that is always present, though usually ignored or even forgotten until a gunman walks into a place of peace and prayer.

It infuriates me that this is beyond my control, that this must be part of my legacy to them. I need America’s help, and America has let me down. I must depend on an entire nation to wake up and keep my children safe from hatred. I must watch and hope that enough of us will stand up and stamp out homegrown hatred, tearing down flags and statues and the walls between us, that an act of hate will unite us in the bringing of peace.

Yisa Adonai panav elecha v’yasem lecha shalom. Day after day, week after week, I will light candles in the dark, put my hands on curly-haired heads, look down into their trusting faces, and pray for safety, and love, and peace.

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