It seems kinda arbitrary- what to do first? Face painting, or the moonbounce?
2:30 p.m. Sunday. Chanukah Wonderland of Chabad of the Five Towns.
We made our way through what seemed like hundreds of kids, parents, and staff… booths, balloons, crafts, legos, and activities… Blaring music, announcements, raffle drawings… So much was jam-packed into such a small space, we could start our fun anywhere and it would be just right.
So, what to do first? Face painting, or the moonbounce?
Well, if anyone would have made a shortlist of what my 2 year old son Uriyah might enjoy at an indoor carnival, the moonbounce would definitely be on top of the list, followed by legos and crafts- for sure.
For some reason, I skipped all that. Walked right past the children gleefully jumping in the moonbounce. Walked right through the crafts area with Chanuakah themed-fun. Instead, I took my son to get his face painted.
We gingerly took our place online as my husband Yossi took our eight month old daughter Ma’ayan to the lego toddler area. We stood for what seemed like ages, about seven young girls eagerly waiting their turn, and then Uriyah, the lone boy, waiting patiently for his. Standing ahead of me with her daughter was an old friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in years. We reminisced. Wow, how her daughter had grown. Wow, how motherhood changed our lives. Wow, how lonely it all was sometimes… As the teenaged volunteer finished the last strokes of the red menorah on her daughter’s face, my friend announced that she’s going to the moonbounce with her young girl. I watched them walk off.
Once seated by the face painter, Uriyah said he wanted a green dreidel on one cheek and a blue menorah on the other- and that’s just what he got. After, I ‘traded’ with Yossi. I took Ma’ayan to nurse her and Yossi took Uriyah to… make a candle. Of all things.
I made my way to the other side of the room to some benches, within earshot of the children’s rally that was being telecast at the time. I saw another old friend of mine… we chatted about small stuff. Of course, it all seems small in light of what happened next. I was looking at the large, floor-to-ceiling window diagonally across from me, when suddenly, a huge black SUV pummeled through the glass, driving so, so, so fast, through the toddler play area, legos flying through the air, as it finally collided into the moonbounce on the other side of the event space. The impact of the collision finally stopped the car as the moonbounce fell to the ground, children still inside.
I can tell you so much, and yet so little, about the next moments… How in the instant that terror strikes, time simultaneously moves so slow you an see every moment suspended in anticipation and so frighteningly fast, you experience a whiplash of fright. How I, by the Mercy of Gd, found my husband and son safe, and found them so quickly, while others were screaming for their loved ones, lost in the fear… How my husband ran off to help lift the car from on top of a trapped man, while I ran outside with the kids, trying to get out safe… How he looked when he found us later, his shirt bloodstained, his face soaked with tears. I remember running on shards and shards of broken glass, cradling my two kids in my arms, searching for our coats, trying to keep calm, all the time murmuring ‘Boruch Hashem, Boruch Hashem‘ while others were still searching for their kids, their mothers, their fathers, everyone’s faces tear-stained, everyone with looks of terror frozen in their eyes.
All I could think in those harrowing moments was: Is this what its like in a terror attack? Is this what it feels like, all the mayhem, the running, the blood, the destruction, the sadness, the fear, the ‘it-could-have-been-me” feeling– or worse, the ‘it-could-have-been-my-kids” feeling? If I got a small taste of that today, I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and trauma so many others survive, in travesties so much larger.
After what seemed like an eternity, we left the ‘Wonderland’ and made our way to the Rebbe’s Ohel to ask for mercy for those who are critically injured and to thank Gd for the sweet kindness He showed our family today.
It’s still very raw. Very sad. Very scary. And most of all, it seems so arbitrary. Are we ever safe? Why did we have to see this? I just wanted to give my kid a good time, a little face painting, maybe a little moonbounce, and now he’s afraid, tells me it’s “scary at the Chabad House.” Oy.
Last night, Yossi and I went went to a Chanukah party at the Pinsons in Carroll Gardens. In a dark candlelit room with huge brass chandeliers hanging from the high ceilings, Rav Dov Ber asked all present to meditate on the Menorah lights… Four majestic flames shining against a brick wall, beautiful gold flames flickering tall with pride… Half the menorah lit: the other half, still dark.
The image of that menorah was embedded in my mind’s eye.
And tonight, after the face painting, and the car crash, and crying, and holding, and caressing, and praying- after all of it- we lit the Menorah at home. Five lights. Four plus one: half the menorah lit, plus one more light on the other side.
I remember last night’s menorah, the one embedded in my mind’s eye, as I stare at tonight’s.
Something’s changed for me and my family as we traveled in time and space from the fourth night of Chanukah to the fifth… from the right side of the menorah, past the shamash, to the fifth light. Something profound. Something unexplainable, yet totally palpable. Something soft, mysterious and vulnerable…
Right now, it feels like the difference between face-painting and the moonbounce.