Fear has infiltrated our lives like a deadly white powder wafting through the soul of America.

Perhaps this is the great change that everyone senses to have occurred on September 11. Thousands have died, and thousands more have been directly affected by their deaths. A wider circle is bearing the brunt of the economic repercussions. But the most wide-ranging effect is this new, awful fear, this seeping dread that is slowly filling the space where our hearts used to be.

Is there an answer to this fear? Is there some way to still this terror, to reclaim our supplanted hearts?

When I was growing up, most of the grown-ups I knew were Holocaust survivors. Some had survived the war years as young children hidden with non-Jewish families, warned not to ask for Mommy and Daddy or to utter their real name. Some were in the camps. Virtually all had lost loved ones: parents, bothers, sisters, children.

I don't know how "religious" or how "spiritual" they were — I don't know what exactly they felt when they prayed, put on tefillin, or performed any of the other mitzvot that defined their daily lives. But I know that they went about their lives with the quite conviction that they were doing what G‑d wanted them to do, that their lives were part of something greater than themselves.

Perhaps this explains the surprising normalcy of their lives. It was many years before I learned — from magazine articles, films and books — about the traumas that darken many survivors' lives and even afflict their second and third generations. It was even longer before I realized that I should be wondering why all these people I know — my parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and all the older people in our neighborhood shul — were so "normal". Certainly, the Holocaust was a most tragic and painful disruption of their lives; but once it was over, they picked up what was left and got on with the joys and sorrows of living.

These were not people who were indifferent to their physical existence. They cared about their homes and businesses, about their health and safety and savings accounts, as much as anyone else. But they knew that that's not all there is. Their physical lives served a higher purpose; their physical world was an offshoot of a higher, eternal, indestructible reality. Whatever was going to happen was not "the end of the world" since even the end of the world is not the end of the world.

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, who spent many years battling the Communist regime's attempt to eradicate Judaism in the Soviet Union in the 1920's, recounts an incident which took place during one of his many interrogations by the NKVD and GPU (forerunners of the KGB). At one point, the interrogator brandished a revolver in the Rebbe's face and said: "This toy does away with 'principles'. Fear of it has opened many a mouth, and even the dumb have become talkative before it."

"This toy," Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak calmly replied, "strikes fear in the heart of a person who has but a single world and many gods. But as for us, who have two worlds and one G‑d, it makes no impression whatsoever."