In December, my wife, Julie, and our sons, Adam (21) and Daniel (20), chose to spend our winter vacation in Israel to counter the dramatic drop in tourism following the summer’s Gaza war. Although we’ve visited Israel countless times before, the thrill of landing in the Jewish state never seems to fade, and on every trip I find something new to take away.
On this particular trip, we traveled to Israel’s south, including a stop at the tomb of David Ben Gurion, the founder and first Prime Minister of the country. There we encountered a group of young people touring with the Birthright Israel program. My wife and I watched with wonder as the spirited group slowly assembled and then began proudly singing “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. Seeing their passionate connection to Israel was a most memorable moment for us both.
As we walked with the group back to the parking lot, I learned that these students, the same age as our own sons, were from France. I mention that because a few weeks later, at an interfaith memorial service for the Paris terror victims, organized by The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, I learned that one of the four men killed in the terrorist attack at the kosher market, Yoav Hattab, age 21, the son of the Chief Rabbi of Tunis, had recently returned from a Birthright Israel trip. Suddenly, the events in France hit close to home.
The horrific murders at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters and the Hyper Casher market were an absolute tragedy. Making this sad situation even worse is seeing how anti-Semitic attitudes, and associated anti-Semitic violence have taken hold throughout Europe in ways not seen in generations. Seemingly every day we hear of new reports of anti-Semitic acts and threats. It is no wonder that European leaders have begun pleading with their Jewish populations not to leave their countries, promising that their communities will remain safe and secure. At a time like this, it is more important than ever to stand together and show solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters.
So right now, I am traveling throughout Paris with nearly 50 other American Jewish leaders to show solidarity and support for the French Jewish community. While in Paris, leaders of The Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago will pay our respects to the victims of anti-Semitism, including families of those killed last month. We will are meeting with the leaders of the French Jewish community. We are touring the oldest Jewish school in Europe, a school now protected 24 hours a day by armed guards. We are hearing about what is being done to protect these important and storied communities. And, most importantly, we are praying together, as Jews, at the Hyper Casher Kosher supermarket where four innocent people were murdered. Targeted simply for being Jews.
I jumped at the opportunity to join this important trip. Leaders from across the country – from Washington to Portland, from New York to Miami, and right here in Chicago – are joining together in this important cause to make our voices heard. It is vitally important for the Jews of France, and Jews around the world, to know that they are not alone. We stand united as a community, whether we live in Chicago, Paris, Tel Aviv, or anywhere else in the world.
Those of us in the American Jewish community are truly fortunate to live a country where, by and large, we feel safe and protected. In Chicago and throughout the country, our Jewish Federations provide valuable resources to foster and nourish our communities, helping each to flourish and grow. Shouldn’t it be that every Jewish community worldwide enjoys these same opportunities?
And the same Jewish Federations that provide for our communities here at home work just as hard to protect and serve Jewish communities around the world. And of course, these Jewish Federations also work to build a strong and secure Israel. Simply put, we are united as one Jewish people, and we know that in the Jewish state of Israel, we will always have a safe place to go to escape those who seek to destroy us.
It is thus our duty to ensure that the spirit of Yoav, and every other victim of anti-Semitic murders, will forever live on in Israel and wherever the Jewish people stand. We must honor their memories as long as there remains a breath in our bodies. It is with this commitment that I am proud to travel to Paris to show that we will always stand together – and remind those who seek to destroy our people, that they will not succeed. Not today. Not ever.