I’m not certain about many things but one thing I know for sure is that from the moment I was born there were people in this world who wanted to kill me.
Whether it’s a tiny Chabad House in India, a Jewish Supermarket in Paris or a synagogue in Israel no target is too small to be attacked, no Jew too irrelevant to die. No Jewish charity too innocuous to smear.
While watching the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu speak in the Great Synagogue of Paris I listen to the CNN anchor explain that this was not a Jewish tragedy but a French one. Muslims, Christians, cartoonists, cops, everyone was in the firing line from these terrorists. And that’s true. It’s also irrelevant. To me.
The Great Synagogue that played host to the Prime Minister of Israel tonight was closed to worshippers on the eve of the last Shabbat for the first time…since the last time it was forced to close due to the actions of those who came for the Jews.
When I was a child at school the greatest compliment was “you don’t look Jewish”. Somehow, in some way from a young age I learned that blending in is good. Don’t act Jewish, don’t be Jewish, keep your head down, don’t attract attention.
For millennia this was our way. We were attacked nonetheless without recourse to any higher authority short of God himself and for all too long he wasn’t listening. For me the lesson was clear; God helps those who kill for themselves.
But this was just the lesson I learned. Jews everywhere have learned different lessons in different ways. Some abandon their people as soon as they are able, simply shrugging off the beliefs and rituals that define them. They allow the teachings of their ancestors to disappear in order that they may blend into the general public of whatever country or society they happen to have been born into. They spare their children the burden of being born Jews.
A few go even further and devote their lives to attacking the very culture and religion into which they were born. They use their own identity as a stick with which to beat their co-religionists. Perhaps they hope that doing so will ensure their own safety within the wider world. Some of them devote their lives to attacking Israel in order to show the masses that they fear that it’s not the Jews who should be hated but only a different ‘other’ group of people called Zionists.
Others see enemies around each and every corner, they retreat from the world unable to place their faith in anyone who isn’t like them. They build around themselves a bunker in the hope that they can retreat from the world. They see enemies where there are none, they create enemies where there are friends.
Many more find themselves continuing the traditions of their fathers and their grandfathers while keeping their heads down and hoping that the bolt of lightening called anti-Semitism will never hit them. But anti-Semitism isn’t like lightening and Jews aren’t like lightening rods. We may be attacked because we are leaders of our people but we are more likely to be attacked because we visited a Jewish museum in Belgium, a synagogue in Jerusalem, a supermarket in Paris or any other place we are known to congregate.
Some Jews refuse to keep their heads down be it in Israel or in the diaspora. In politics, communal organizations, the Israel Defence Forces those Jews will stand up and fight against the hatred they have felt since the moment of their birth. They will see their efforts blasted, attacked as evidence of bad faith. Calls of anti-Semitism will be answered with accusations of racism, attempts to defend the nation state by force of arms with be met with accusations of murder and massacre.
This is why there are so many Jews ready to stand up and cry foul. This is why there are so many Jews prepared to stand up and scream from the rooftops at the injustice of being attacked. This is why those who attack Israeli policies will never understand the robust response which they receive. It’s also why so many Jews are unwilling to be critical of themselves, they know for sure that their criticism will be taken out of context and used about them by those who are experts in smearing both the Jewish people and the Jewish state.
Protection of the lives of Jews is not something that can be achieved through a Jewish nation state. Israel can’t do it. Those who point out that a Jew is more at risk in Israel than elsewhere are right. But only in Israel is the dignity of the Jew assured. In Israel we wear the Star of David proudly, tsit tsit out for all to see. In fact only in Israel is this act not seen as a statement of some kind, but as an everyday occurrence of a religious Jew going to pray. An event so normal that it’s not even worth turning your head to look at.
Only in Israel can a Jew feel that which so many other peoples take for granted, the dignity that comes from being part of a majority. The dignity of knowing that you don’t stand alone.
Most people watching the terrorist atrocities in Paris will see an attack on a magazine and another on a Kosher supermarket. The Jews watching will see merely the latest in an long line of attacks against them. Attacks that have been perpetrated by peoples of all colours and all creeds in the names of many different ideologies. The only thing any of these attacks shared was that they were directed against the Jews.
They will wonder how many more there will be and when they will be the one caught in the crosshairs. They will wonder whether they will have to sell everything they own and move to a country that presents the enemy with a bigger target, but that at least allows them to live with the dignity that the thugs have succeeded in taking from them.
This is the Jew’s choice. Either abandon your religion completely, stay where you are and hope the enemy doesn’t turn up at your house or move to the home of the Jews with the knowledge that the enemy already stands at the gates.