Like Jews around the world, I listened to the events unfolding in Paris, where Muslim terrorists were holding hostages under siege in two locations. I could only pray for the safety of the hostages, many of whom had been shopping for Shabbat. Entering my own local store to shop for Shabbat, I imagined what it must be like in Hyper Cacher, the hostages praying for release. “Please let them be released safely,” I intoned over and over.

By early afternoon in the United States, the Paris sieges were over. Slowly, the world learned that both Kouachi brothers were killed and a hostage they took released safely. From the kosher grocery store, the news wasn’t as positive. In addition to the four Jews who were murdered, several more were rushed from the store in ambulances. For much of France, with the terrorists who’d attacked Charlie Hebdo dead, the horror was over; for Jews around the world, there was little solace.

As the hours ticked down towards Shabbat, like Jews throughout the world, I was frantically scanning news sites for names of the victims. I wanted to pray for them by name, to include prayers for them when lighting my Shabbat candles. With only a couple hours to go, my kids came home from school and told me how they’d been saying special prayers for the hostages in France. They too hoped to be able to pray for them by name before Shabbat started and we turned off our computers and radios. “We recited Mimaamakim,” they said—Psalm 130, which calls out to G‑d from the depths. “We also sang ‘Acheinu’”, they explained, the famous Jewish prayer which asserts Acheinu kol Beit Yisrael: all of members of the House of Israel are brethren. There is a haunting, beautiful melody for these words, and I found myself humming it under my breath, praying with every ounce of my strength for the victims of the week’s violence in Paris.

In the midst of all this activity, I got a very welcome surprise. One of my oldest childhood friends stopped by for a visit. This wonderful woman had a few minutes to spare and was in the neighborhood. Not being Jewish, she wanted to see how I prepared my famous matzah ball soup, she joked. Her bright face was a welcome relief from the tension and horror of the day. I poured her a cup of tea and showed her how I made matzah balls, but I couldn’t fully concentrate. Partly this was because I kept listening to nonstop radio coverage of the attack. But also, as Shabbat drew ever closer, I was getting frantic with an unusually long list of tasks I had to complete.

“Sorry,” I told my friend, “I just have to put these meals into separate containers.” As I put food on plates and covered them with plastic wrap, my friend eyed me quizzically. I explained that I was bringing dinner to an elderly man in the community who couldn’t cook for himself. “That’s very kind,” my friend said, somewhat taken aback. Other food, I said, as I took out larger containers, was for a family down the street who had a sick relative and wasn’t able to cook. Now my friend’s eyebrows rose. “Will you have enough food for yourself?” she wondered. Yes, I explained, I didn’t have to do it all myself. For our own lunch on Shabbat, I could always rely on other people in the community who would share with us, too.

By this time, my friend looked shocked.

“Do you do this every week?” she asked. I explained that while I didn’t always cook for other people each week, this sort of helping out other people wasn’t unusual. My friend thought for a moment. I know that generosity, that charity and reaching out for others, is something that’s built into the fiber of her being too; over the years, she’s been incredibly kind and giving to me and others. I also know that her own religious community is extremely open and giving; she’s told me with pride through the years about various charitable schemes she’s been involved in. But for a moment, sitting in my kitchen for a few minutes before Shabbat, she was moved; there’s so much kindness here, she observed. It will come back to you too one day. It’s like a family, I agreed. We take care of each other.

After a while I bade a warm goodbye to my friend and headed out to deliver my meals before Shabbat. I listened one last time before Shabbat to the radio in my car. “Please comfort the people in Paris,” I whispered as I waited for the news report. I found myself singing the song my kids had prayed in school, “Acheinu.” It seemed a feeble gesture. All day long I’d been straining to be able to do something, anything, for the victims in Paris. My every thought was with them, and I’d felt horrible that there was nothing I could do to aid them.

As I pulled up to the apartment building to make my first delivery, though, I finally had a small measure of peace. There are two ways to feel unified, I thought. There’s the negative, the sick worldview displayed in Paris that day, in which all Jews were enemies, all Jews combatants in an incomprehensible struggle the French jihadists had declared. As I stood in the elevator holding the Shabbat meal I’d prepared, I mused, there’s a different way of looking at the world—and our community—too: to declare Acheinu kol Beit Yisrael, all Jews are connected, even if only by sharing a meal. Suddenly, delivering the meal didn’t seem like such an insignificant gesture. In such a dark time, for a moment, it seemed crucially important. One small step to bring a tiny bit of light back into the world.