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Fight or flight and French Jewry

No one should urge Jews to flee; no one of any race or religion should flee; we must all fight

When I heard well-meaning friends and Israeli public officials urge French Jews to run here for their lives, I remembered this:

I remembered my flushed cheeks and sinking stomach when a lecturer told my Young Judaea Year Course (1972-1973) that the post-Holocaust aliya of European Jews was a response to fear. I was a 17 year-old daughter of survivors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen (my mom) and Theresienstadt and Majdanek (my dad). I remembered telling him that my parents could have gone elsewhere to seek refuge. That they chose to come here. That they believed that this was the only place for Jews and that they indeed took up arms nearly as soon as they arrived. That they did not flee – they fought.

I remembered my daughter’s anger at her junior high school classmates who accused Europe’s Jews of going to the Holocaust like sheep to the slaughter. And I remembered my relief when she told me that, unlike my teacher on Year Course, her teachers had her back when she explained why this was not true. I was relieved that the early Zionist sheep-to-the-slaughter narrative had been amended by the education system here, and that Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel had officially been renamed, “Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah,” meaning Holocaust and Bravery Remembrance Day. That in their own way, they fought.

I remembered the anger of Jewish friends of Mizrahi descent who came here from North Africa and Arab countries, who also heard the early Zionist narrative in school as children, that their parents were driven here by fear. This too has thankfully been amended by the Israeli education system to a greater and in some parts lesser extent. They too were horrified that their teachers could ignore brave uncles who risked their lives to bring their family to this country and other relatives who took up arms nearly as soon as they arrived.

I remembered the Ethiopian and Russian soldiers who are serving alongside my daughter in the IDF, and that ignorant people told them that their parents only came here to flee religious oppression, poverty, or disease. Their parents brought their children here to fight – not flee. They raised them to do so rather than seek a readily available exemption from service.

No Jew should flee. No one should urge Jews to flee. No one of any race or religion should flee. We must all fight.

We must all fight anti-Semitism, racism, and attempts to rob us of our individual freedoms bravely and however we can. This can mean taking up arms to defend ourselves or staying put where we are and refusing to carry on the work of haters by hating ourselves.

It can mean heeding the advice of a French woman named Lorine who told Israel Army Radio on Monday, “We shouldn’t flee, but we should calmly prepare to leave.”

It can mean heeding the advice of Natan Sharansky, who told Channel 10 News yesterday that “We need to be wise enough to respond appropriately, that is, to see to it that the absorption [of French Jewry in Israel] is successful.”

On a national level, this can mean fighting for policy which facilitates their successful absorption, ensuring that they learn Hebrew, live in communities in which they are not isolated, avoiding the bureaucratic nightmares that plagued previous aliyot, and streamlining conversions of non-Jewish family members.

On a personal level, it can mean fighting our fear of the other to welcome them into our hearts and our homes. It can mean fighting inner demons that cause us to quickly form opinions of who they are. Previous aliyot have been called cheap, primitive, intellectual, too clean, too dirty, insular, rich, poor, bad dressers, good dressers, and any human trait that the human mind can imagine. It can mean knowing and acknowledging that they too are here to fight – not flee.

It can mean fighting the urge to sit on the couch to march here or there and vote. Or it can mean bravely dipping into our pockets.

And yes, it can mean that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

We must heed the commandment: Therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed (Deuteronomy 30:19).

But whenever we can, we must choose fight – not flight – and urge others to do the same.

About the Author
Varda Spiegel was Nurse-Director of the Bedouin Mobile Unit of the Negev, later serving as Maternal-Child Health Director for the Ministry of Health Jerusalem District. I am a grandmother, mother, and beachbum.
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