Je Suis Juif

The noted French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” which means the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Seventy years after the Holocaust ended, European Jews are once again fearful of what tomorrow will bring.  The ordinary expressions of Jewish life – attending synagogue, buying kosher food, going to Jewish day school, wearing a kippa – are coupled with danger.

A new generation is learning firsthand about the world’s oldest hatred.

Throughout the centuries, Jews have been painted as Shylocks and Fagins, villains to be scorned and persecuted.  More than any other people, we have been the victims of callous indifference, ignorance, and outright hatred manifest in crusades, inquisitions, expulsions, blood libels, pogroms, and genocide.

After every destruction we have rebuilt and after every crisis we have begun anew. We will do so now, but we are fatigued.  We have been forced to start over too often.  The time has come for us to stop running.

If there will always be people who look down on the Jews, then the only answer is for us to walk tall.  By walking with heads held high, those who look down will have no choice but to look up.

There are plenty of reasons for Jews to stand tall. We are the descendants of kings and prophets and priests and sages.

We are the children of Abraham who taught the world ethical monotheism; of Moses who proved that a small people can prevail against the world’s mightiest empire; and the prophets of eternal hope, Isaiah and Jeremiah.

We have shared the majesty of the mind through great thinkers such as Maimonides, Spinoza, Marx, Freud, Einstein, Durkheim, and Lévi-Strauss.

We have improved the human condition immeasurably thanks to the discoveries of among others, Jonas Salk, who created the first polio vaccine, Oskar Minkowski who discovered that diabetes can be treated with Insulin, and Selman Waksman who invented the wonder drug, Streptomycin.

We have revolutionized technology, communication, and commerce thanks to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Oracle architect, Larry Ellison, the creators of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and the co-founder of PayPal, Max Levchin.

We have given the world the music of Felix Mendelssohn, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Oscar Hammerstein, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, and Billy Joel.  To say nothing of the pride we take in laying claim to Sandy Koufax, Steven Spielberg, and Jerry Seinfeld.

We have left our mark on just about every area of progress made in the modern world and for our efforts, won a hugely disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes and Field Medals.

To be a part of the Jewish people is to be a part of a people whose distinctions reflect the sheer force of our commitment to advancing the common good.  We can walk tall knowing that our devotion to charity, individual conscience, equality, tolerance, and social responsibility is quite simply unparalleled.

When Europe lifts its head from mourning the barbaric terror attacks that took place last week, it will have a decision to make.  It can stand tall for what it believes in or it can stagger forward, unwilling to defend its values and its Jewish citizens.

Before the Paris siege, it was the gunman who murdered a rabbi and three young children in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse, the suicide bomber who killed seven Israeli tourists on a bus in Burgas, and the shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium.

No nation can claim to stand for freedom and equality if its Jewish citizens are denied the most basic rights: the right to live, raise a family, walk the streets, enjoy a museum, and visit a grocery store without fear of assault.

What is at stake is the future of civilized societies.  Time will tell how Europe will respond, but for now, walk tall.  Je Suis Juif.  I am a Jew.

About the Author
Aviva Klompas is a speechwriter, strategist, and public speaker. She currently serves as the Associate Vice President of Strategic Israel Engagement at Combined Jewish Philanthropies. Previously, she served as the Director of Speechwriting at the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations.
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