Signs displaying the words I am Charlie, I am Jew, I am Muslim, and most importantly I am France, bound the hundreds of thousands of Parisian demonstrators from many faiths today in unity. When differences, instead of being ignored or serving as the roots of hatred, can be embraced and used as fuel to unite, this is when a society flourishes.
Just two months ago, I stood in solidarity with those murdered in the Har Nof massacre and rhetorically asked The Times of Israel if a single Muslim leader had unequivocally condemned the attack. Where were the so-called moderate Muslims denouncing this hatred and violence? Sadly, they were nowhere to be found.
Muslim and former extremist Maajid Nawaz told CNN: “We [European society] have to start taking a lot more responsibility for challenging this sort of vitriol, not just when it becomes violent, but the nonviolent manifestations [as well], [essentially] the intellectual foundation for this attitude.”
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the American Jewish Committee in France, continued along those lines, “We need to hear voices much clearer, much louder, not only religious voices but even secular, young Muslims that have been silent…I believe that the vast majority of French young Muslims believe in the French values, believe in our democracy, they need to be speaking out not only for themselves, but for the good of our country.”
But things have begun to change. Some say these changes are merely skin-deep, but I believe they are the start of something new, something genuine.
Two entities that have yet to cease their endorsing and supporting of terror organizations, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority, participated in the solidarity march in Paris today that drew many world leaders. While their and the director’s of the Paris mosque participation many not mean much, it certainly reveals that supporting Jews in times of mourning, at least outside of Israel, has become the right thing to do. And that is one of the fundamental differences between now and 1939.
Over the past few years, we’ve been alarmed and frightened as tensions and incidents that duplicate those pre-Holocaust have only increased. Anti-Semitism is rising in Europe and Jews are making aliyah like never before; France is at the top of the list with about 7,000 French Jews immigrating to Israel in 2014, more than double that of the previous year.
That right there – undoubtedly the most significant difference between now and then. We have a homeland, a Jewish democratic state called Israel, a refuge whose doors will always be open.
Should all French Jews just make aliyah then? Although it isn’t exactly my place, I say no. Former Chief Rabbi of the UK Jonathan Sacks agrees: “If France loses it’s Jewish community, it [will] lose it’s soul. France exists because it was the first country in Europe to have a revolution and declare in 1789 that all human beings are born and remain equal in rights. France carries the banner of liberty and if it cannot guarantee liberty to Jews and to others then it isn’t France anymore.” It’s clearly a mutually beneficial relationship, much like that between the US and Israel: France provides a home for it’s Jews and they contribute heavily in the arts, sciences, and culture, let alone be law-abiding citizens.
Nawaz said he’d “be particularly disturbed…if this led to a mass exodus of French Jews because in fact, the Jewish communities here in Europe were the pioneers in developing a sort-of model whereby religious minorities could be at home and at ease with their societies as a minority. Muslim communities in Europe have learned a great deal from them.”
This summer, we watched in disappointment and anger as CNN and other major news networks reported not only with great bias, but deceitful stories with deceitful headlines that ignored Israel’s point of view. At least for today, things have changed. Today is a day of mixed feelings, but at the end I am overjoyed with gratitude. CNN finally reported the truth and hosted honest individuals on live television for the world to see, and millions of people in Paris and worldwide stood for free expression, against Islamic radicalism, and with the Jews. But that was today. Sure, this outbreak of greatness will most likely be short lived, (I hope it isn’t), but I am grateful that it happened at all.
My Rabbi, Yossi Lipsker, articulated my thoughts today best: He noted that The Israeli Prime Minister’s security detail must have been terrified as their leader, that of the Jewish people, strolled in through the front door of the Grand Synagogue in Paris just like everyone else.
How breathtaking — Benjamin Netanyahu risked his life to support the bereaved and traumatized French Jewish community. He placed his own comfort and security beneath his commitment to stand with Jews in the Diaspora. Astounding.
Ultimately, we must zoom out. The threat of Islamic extremism is most definitely not just a threat to the Jewish community or the French community or the American or Israeli community. Islamic extremism attempts to penetrate and destroy the free societies which we all thrive upon. It comes in many forms and has many titles, but all take innocent lives. It’s struck every continent (besides Antarctica of course), and I’m relieved the world is finally beginning to wake up.
It starts today.
Today, I am proud to be a Jew.
Today, I am proud to be a citizen of the world.
Baruch Hashem, may the recent tragedies serve to enlighten us and guide the way to a just world.