Written by Eric Schaffer in Haeksher, March/April 2015 edition.
In the last issue of HaKesher, I wrote about diversity on the streets of London. Subsequent events in Paris reminded me that, while diversity enriches our lives, there are times when we focus on our own community.
I found myself struggling to make sense of the threat to Jews in Europe. My initial thought was that parts of Europe have become increasingly dangerous. Is it time to reconsider our future there? My next thought was to avoid overreaction. We are not facing state endorsed threats. We saw French people of all faiths protest violence against our people. We were heartened to learn that Jewish lives were saved by the action of a French-African Muslim.
But where was the outcry before the attack on Charles Hebdo? Where were the marches following murders in Toulouse in 2012 or Brussels in 2014? While much of the world came together on the streets of Paris in January, few of us expect mass protests the next time people are killed just for being part of the Jewish community.
Since then, I have read a wide range of articles with the hope of sorting this out in my own mind.
- Bret Stephens, writing in the Wall Street Journal, concluded that French Jews need to leave sooner rather than later. “It’s true that Israelis run greater personal risks than French Jews,” but what is the future in a country where anti-Semitism is gently condoned? (from “Packing Time for France’s Jews”)
- David Remnick’s analysis in The New Yorker was less alarmist, but hardly reassuring. Will France and other nations fight for the future of liberal civilization? (from “The Shadow of Anti-Semitism in France”)
- Rabbi Tom Cohen at Kehilat Gesher in Paris counseled that giving up is not a solution and asked that we “realize that what has happened in Paris can happen anywhere in the civilized world.” (from www.kehilatgesher.org)
- In an insightful article in ReformJudaism.org, Simone Rodan-Benazaquen wrote that “France is under assault” and asked “will this be the necessary wake-up call for France as a whole to confront the danger?” Observing “what happens in the days and weeks ahead will truly test France,” she concluded that “the fate of France is entwined with the fate of its Jews.” (from “The Fate of France is Entwined with the Fate of its Jews”)
- Weekly Standard senior editor Christopher Caldwell decried Europe’s decades of carelessness. “It has not recognized that free countries are for peoples strong enough to defend them.” (from “Immigration and Islam: Europe’s Crisis of Faith”)
- Offering an historical perspective beyond the streets of Paris, Lord Jonathan Sacks, emeritus chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, observed: “The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.” Anti-Semitism is not a strictly Jewish problem: “Jews die from it, but it isn’t about Jews.” (from “EVERAgain”)
- While this about more than just us, we live our lives as individuals, as families, and as fellow-Congregants. How many of us stop to think about larger historical, economic, political, and sociological issues when the effect on us is immediate? NPR reporter Eleanor Beardsley interviewed a Jewish refugee from Algeria who refused to be pushed out by “a few people with an imported ideology.” (from “For Many French Jews, Anti-Semitism Has A Clear Source”)
A friend in Paris sent me an email in which she observed that French journalists always found “good reasons” to explain attacks on Jews. “Maybe the media will finally understand that we have in France a serious problem.” Thinking about her husband and young child, she noted that 7000 Jews left France in 2014 for Israel, Canada, and the United States. In a statement and a question she wrote: “They may be right?”
So what are my conclusions? We can be justifiably proud of our lives as American Jews. At the same time, we need to be attentive to the larger world. It may not be for us at Rodef Shalom Congregation to tell our landsmen what to do, but we must offer them our support – in whatever form – when they need it.