We recently welcomed a school visit to the synagogue. I enjoy asking the children questions that make their teachers squirm, like "do you think I look Jewish?". It is enormous fun watching the 4 and 5 year olds look me up and down thoughtfully while their teachers look on in horror wondering what might come out of their mouths.
It is, usually, harmless nonsense - I don't look Jewish (almost always the answer) because I am not a boy, because I am not wearing a hat, because I am white(!), because I don't have big enough eyebrows. A useful and efficient way to identify and quash stereotypes!
With our littlest guests I ask them where they keep their most special things. Usually shells and stones they pick up. They keep them wrapped safely in fabric or tissue in a special box. This is how I introduce our Torah; something special wrapped safely in fabric in a special box (or cupboard!).
It's with this in mind that I looked on in horror at the photos of the Notre-Dame fire. We know something is special because it is kept somewhere special - and it was so clear that Notre-Dame was that place for so many Catholics, so many French people, and indeed people across the world.
We must be grateful that no-one was hurt, grateful for the bravery of our firefighters, and hope that in a time of such division our appreciation of Notre-Dame's beauty, our acknowledgement of its place within our history, and our wish for restoration unites us - if only for a moment.
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,