The horrific siege at the Lindt Café in Sydney, Australia, which left two hostages dead, shocked the world and shook our collective sense of security. Suddenly, a pastime as innocent as gathering in a popular café in a city center on a busy Monday morning seemed fraught with potential danger. As the siege unfolded, terrified hostages were seen holding black flags with Arabic declarations of faith written on them up to the windows of the café. The gunman was later identified as a radical Iranian with a criminal past; full of hatred, he had a history of writing threatening letters to Jewish organizations.

As I read about the gunman, I thought back to the effects of being the target of a campaign of hatred and poisonous letter-writing. I know them well myself. Years ago, when my children were very young, the school they then attended received poisonous letters of its own: first a bomb threat, then another, and then another.

The police eventually caught the man who made the threats. He was motivated by an intense hatred of Jews, he said in court, and was feeling inadequate and depressed about his lack of success in life. He lived near the school, and decided to take his hatred out on the Jewish families who sent their children there, sending them threatening letter after threatening letter. He was eventually sentenced to jail—but for several months before he was caught, the families of the school were faced with a horrible dilemma: continue to send our children to school, or give in to fear and leave.

Those months were the most intense I’d ever experienced; each day was an agonizing choice. Whenever one of my children was sick, I kept him or her home with a sigh of relief. While my children were in school, I worried intensely the whole day about them, weighing the decision I’d made to send them to school, wondering what they were doing, picturing everything that might have gone wrong, G‑d forbid, in my mind’s eye, over and over. That year taught me three key lessons about living in the shadow of terror, and about responding to fear.

Know what you’re living for

The months my fellow parents and I worried about threats made against our kids’ school brought us closer together. Over and over, we asked ourselves and each other whether we should withdraw our children. We were tempted, but nobody did. While of course we were concerned about the threat of violence and terror, we also realized there were certain things we weren’t willing to give up out of fear. For us, our commitment to our children’s Jewish education was non-negotiable. As terrified as we were that year, we were also equally determined to give our children the type of Jewish education we’d chosen.

Resist the urge to justify terror

Never forget that nothing can justify violence or the threat of violence against innocent civilians.

During that awful year of living with the threat of terror, I questioned my decision to send my children to school each day. Finally, after several months, I got in touch with an acquaintance from high school, a woman who was now a prestigious pastor and a leader in her community. I thought with her life experience, she might have some interesting suggestions about living with the threat of terror. I explained the situation: my children’s Jewish school was receiving threats. I was afraid; did she have any insights or advice for me? Her answer came in the form of an e-mail, directing me to a highly political website that justified terrorism against the Jewish state. I’d never felt so crushed or marginalized. I couldn’t believe she would excuse terror—terror directed against my innocent children—for an abstract political ideal.

Feel another’s pain

The images of the siege in Sydney remind all of us around the world that we are all connected, all responsible for one another. When three hostages managed to run away several hours into the siege, the news was broadcast around the world. The fact that everyone rejoiced—millions of people around the world all cheered on these three people—reminds us that on a deep level, we all feel connected. The joy at the escape of three people is a joy that everyone around the world can feel elated by.

Similarly, when people are hurt or in danger, we also have a duty to push ourselves to feel, to not turn our backs. That means helping materially when we can, and lending our hearts and prayers to those in danger or need.

At times of horror like the Sydney siege—and during other times of danger and sorrow—we can each do something to help. We can each offer a prayer. It is customary to recite Psalms in times of danger, though any prayer can help us connect and offer solace to those in need. Judaism also guides us to perform extra mitzvahs and acts of kindness as a way to offer help, introducing additional light into the world during times of danger and darkness.