WORKING FOR JEWS TO BE AT HOME EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD.
When Amedy Coulibaly held the customers at a kosher supermarket in Paris hostage on January 9th and then killed four of the customers, the murders were pointedly targeting Jews. Jews were not the only, or perhaps even the originally intended, victims in the tragic attacks of those frightening days, which began with the coordinated murder of eight journalists at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and the additional killing of three police officers and two more bystanders. Nonetheless, the anti-Jewish nature of this attack was pointed. For many of us, questions surface like, When will the next attack against Jews take place? Could this happen to us here in Toronto? Are Jews safe anywhere in the world?
If these events stood on their own, they would be reasonable cause for fear. With the spate of recent anti-Semitic attacks and acts of vandalism in Europe and the larger weight of the historical experiences of anti-Semitism that have included ghettoization, inquisition, pogroms, and near extermination through the Holocaust, it’s no wonder that Jews as a whole have internalized a sense of deep isolation and heavy fears about our survival and safety.
And yet, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Jews of France and, indeed, the Jews of the world, that Israel’s doors are always open to them, that Jews can leave their various homes to be safe and accepted in Israel, he dangerously misdirected the response these Jewish murders call for – a deepened commitment to the essential work of ending anti-Jewish oppression as part of the project of ending all discrimination and oppression.
Thankfully, Israel has been a safe harbour for Jews fleeing anti-Semitic persecution in various countries – among them the former Soviet Union, Syria, Iraq, and Ethiopia. Israel’s importance as the ancient Jewish homeland and contemporary Jewish national home make it a special and deeply meaningful place for the Jewish people. But it is essential to affirm that Israel is not only in existence to be a safe home for threatened Jews, and it is essential, particularly in the wake of these recent events, to affirm that Israel is not the only place for Jews or Jewish safety.
It is in these charged times when fear is easily manipulated for political ends – either demonizing Muslims and Arabs and amplifying Jewish fear to emphasize Israel’s uniqueness, or pointing to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as justification for violence against Jews. Both are dangerously distorted and take our attention away from the challenging and inspiring work of making everywhere in the world a home for us all. It makes sense that when Jews are attacked, we either want somewhere safe to be or we want to hide – either wanting to live in a place where we can fully be ourselves and where we stop standing out as different, or wanting to assimilate into a place where we are not recognizable as different. However, rather than being driven by fear, acting in the face of our values entails affirming that Jews belong everywhere, and it is our work to be part of making everyplace safe for everyone.
I have been so moved by the international rallies of solidarity, with images of diverse leaders and religiously and culturally diverse citizens standing side-by-side, claiming each other and refusing to let any of us go. Just after the attack, French Prime Minister Valls addressed a large gathering of people saying, “This is a message of love, and I won’t stop saying it – without the Jews of France, France would not BE France. The Jews of France are at the heart of the republic.”
On the same day, a man with a French flag around his shoulders told news cameras: “I am Muslim, I am French – but today I am also Jewish. Because I don’t WANT that the Jews should be afraid here in this country. I hope all groups, and especially our two groups, Jews and Muslims, will from now on stick by each other.”
The goal is not just to be safe. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel framed the goals of our work together beautifully when he said, “What, then, is the purpose of inter-religious cooperation? It is neither to flatter nor to refute one another, but to help one another; to share insight and learning … to search in the wilderness for well-springs of devotion, for treasures of stillness, for the power of love and care for man. What is urgently needed are ways of helping one another in the terrible predicament of here and now … to cooperate in trying to bring about a resurrection of sensitivity, a revival of conscience; to keep alive the divine sparks in our souls … “
Before these attacks took place, the DJC already invited our Multi-Faith partners to celebrate with us at our Tu B’shvat Seder, the ecological and mystical birthday of the trees. Now gathering Muslims, Jews, and Christians together to learn and celebrate together and build relationships with one another is all the more important. Please join us with our Multi-Faith partners at the DJC Tu B’shvat Seder on Tuesday, February 3rd.