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Mourning the Fire at Notre Dame: A Rabbi's Perspective

Mourning the Fire at Notre Dame: A Rabbi's Perspective

Side view of Notre Dame Cathedral as it stood before the April 2019 fire

In March 2012, I visited Paris in my capacity as then-president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ). I’d just attended the European Union for Progressive Judaism’s convention in Amsterdam.

Overshadowing our Paris visit was a horrible tragedy in which four people were savagely murdered at a Jewish day school in Toulouse. We received the heartbreaking news as Rabbi Tom Cohen, of Kehilat Gesher in Paris, was showing us the magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame. Ms. Miriam Kramer, chairman of the European Union, and Mr. Stéphane Beder, president of the French Union of Progressive Judaism were with my wife Vickie and me as we stood in awe before the magnificent cathedral.

When word of the horror in Toulouse reached us, our group quickly moved to a café in the shadow of Notre Dame, where, together, we hastily and sadly drafted the WUPJ’s response to the massacre of innocent Jews.

Today, I find myself reliving that tragedy as I watch live news film of Notre Dame in flames.

I confess that part of my first impression of Notre Dame in 2012 was similar to what I feel whenever I tour magnificent houses of worship: How many homeless people could be housed and how many hungry fed with all the money it took to build this edifice!

That said, Notre Dame is a place of matchless beauty and a symbol of a people’s faith in God. To see it in flames exacerbates the fear and uncertainty of the times in which we live.

Thankfully the fire of Notre Dame did not involve the unspeakable loss of life the U.S. suffered on September 11, for human lives are worth more than any building.

Still, seeing Notre Dame’s famed spire collapse was, for me, even more shocking than seeing the Twin Towers in New York City. After all, the World Trade Center opened in April 1973; and Notre Dame was completed in 1345.

If ever a building represented beauty, stability and order in the world, it was Notre Dame.

For that reason, we Jews join with Christians around the world in mourning after the fire in Paris. A building of unsurpassed beauty is burning in the City of Light, and somehow the whole world seems a little less safe and a little less secure than it was before.

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is a former president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT. He currently serves Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel, FL. A prolific writer, he is the author of several books, the most recent of which is …And Often the First Jew. Rabbi Fuchs earned a D. Min in Biblical Interpretation from Vanderbilt Divinity School, which, in 2017, named him its “Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.”

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs
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