March 6, 2008, 8:30 p.m.

It was a warm spring night, and I had taken a much-needed evening off to go to the wedding of a daughter of a close friend. A bus had been arranged to convey guests from Jerusalem to the wedding, which was taking place in Kfar Chabad. Excitedly, everyone got on the bus, which pulled away from the city only fifteen minutes late. It was a great opportunity to get away from the usual grind and sit together with a friend whom I hadn't seen in a while. We had a lot to catch up on, and the forty-minute journey soon evaporated....

It was the night of Rosh Chodesh ("head of the month") in the Merkaz Harav yeshiva in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Shaul. Dozens of students were in the library when an Arab terrorist burst into the room at 8:30 p.m. with a Kalashnikov rifle hidden in a toolbox. In the ensuing carnage, which only lasted several minutes before two brave civilians, including one of the yeshiva's students, gunned down the murderer, eight young men, ranging in age from 15 to 26, lost their lives. The media later described the scene as a "slaughterhouse," showing pictures of the bloodstained books that the boys had been learning from, and even the blood-soaked tallit katan of one of the victims.

It was a beautiful wedding. The bride's happiness and excitement illuminated her pretty face, and it was wonderful to see all her brothers and sisters, some whom live in other countries, all together, rejoicing with her. At about 10:00 p.m., I sat down after I had danced for a while to take a drink. Suddenly my cell phone rang, and I heard my son's anguished voice. "Mummy, are you in Kfar Chabad yet?" "Of course," I answered. "I got there ages ago. But I can hardly hear you. Is everything ok?" "Mummy, there's been a terror attack in Givat Shaul. An Arab shot up a yeshiva. Eight boys are dead and 17 injured." I felt my heart contract inside me, and my head started to spin. Then, I looked at the faces of the people around me, smiling and laughing. At the head table, the bride sat with her mother and sisters, bathed in happiness. "Mendy, I, I'm at a wedding. I can't talk about this now. It's too terrible," I stammered. In a moment of rather grownup insight for an 11-year-old, my son said, "Don't tell your friends, Mummy, ok? It'll spoil the wedding for them." "You're so right," I said, feeling a sense of relief that he understood so well. "Go to sleep now. It's late. We'll talk about it tomorrow. And don't worry. I'll be home later."

Difficult as it was, I said nothing to my fellow guests. I thought that it would just not be right. Quietly, I took some more salad and decided to let everyone around me attribute my sudden silence to my eating. Before long, however, I saw that the news had started to spread. The woman sitting next to me suddenly snapped her cell phone shut and addressed the other women at the table: "There's been a terror attack .." The whispers grew louder, with the tut-ing, and the heads that were shaken in disbelief. Then there were the usual comments about how it was time to bring down the government, and for how long do we have to put up with such atrocities?

"Did you hear about this?" the woman sitting next to me asked. Feeling as if I had been caught out, I replied, "Actually, my son called me before to tell me about it. But I didn't want to say anything."

And looking around me, I shared a sudden thought with the other women at the table: "Tonight is Rosh Chodesh of Adar II, and for eight Jewish families, this date will always be remembered as the day when they lost their loved ones. But, equally, for the bride and groom, tonight will always be their wedding anniversary. And I don't think it's right for us to spoil that occasion for them. They're not guilty about what has just happened!"

For the rest of the night, we continued to dance, to joke, to laugh, but inside all of us was a terrible feeling of pain, of mourning for eight young men who were cut down in the prime of their youth, and sympathy for their devastated families.

This whole experience, and its timing, at the beginning of the month of Adar, when we are supposed to be happy, set me thinking about the nature of happiness. I had always wondered why there was an actual mitzvah to rejoice on Purim. Why do we need to be commanded to be happy? Isn't that an easy thing to do? Isn't it harder to fast on Yom Kippur, than to eat a good meal and give and accept gifts on Purim?

But now I realized that, at times, it can be far more difficult to be happy and so much easier to feel pain. This is not because we are actively searching for pain or avoiding joy. But sometimes our lives can feel like one long litany of anguish and suffering. How many of us are constantly dealing with problems and difficulties that consume our entire lives? And how often do we find ourselves talking about our troubles to everybody in sight, whether at the bus stop or the grocery store, rather like one discusses the weather simply because that is all we ever seem to be involved with? It doesn't necessarily stem from bitterness, but simply because that is the reality we are in. And then it's Purim, or we are at a wedding, and we have to be - happy.

The evening of Rosh Chodesh Adar II of this year will be remembered in so many different ways, depending on who you are and where you were that night. For the young couple it will be their wedding anniversary, hopefully remembered with joy and thanksgiving to G‑d. And for eight families in Israel, it will be the day when their lives were blown asunder by a terrorist's bullet.

And for the rest of us, how will we remember it? For those of us who were neither married on that day nor, thank G‑d, suffering the loss of a loved one, it is hard to say. The Jewish nation is one collective soul, and we feel each other's pain. Most of us, I am sure, cried as I did when I saw the horrific photographs from the murder scene and read the names and ages of those innocent high school boys. My father once told me that when he was almost 20 years old, in 1945, he saw the first photographs of the concentration camps that appeared in the Russian press (sold in the port city of Liverpool to the Russian sailors), and he started to cry. Someone asked him why it hurt him so much as he had not actually been there himself, and he replied that as a Jew it was only natural for him to feel the pain of other Jews even if he only knew their suffering from pictures.

But what about feeling another person's joy? Can we honestly say that we empathize with another person's happiness in the same way that we feel their pain? And if we take this idea a little further, what about feeling our own joy? Sometimes the greatest test of all is being able to look past our problems and find out what there is in our lives that is worth living for.

Although it was painful in some ways to keep smiling at the wedding last night, we all did it with a full heart. It's true that some of us may have danced with tears in our eyes, but we still danced, and hopefully the bride began her married life with pleasant feelings and sweet, happy memories that will never fade.

And no matter what life throws at us, no matter what personal tragedies that some of us have to endure, it is important to keep on dancing, to keep working on our own inner happiness and peace, so that the problems and the pain that so many of us undergo will finally recede into the distance. For "happiness breaks through the boundaries," and through it we will eventually overcome the restrictions and limitations that our sorrows can place upon our lives.