#JeSuisParis or #AmYisraelChai?
By Elana Yael Heideman
Wandering around Spain on a family vacation, there were almost no Jews to be found. But as I walked through the alleyways of Cordoba, once home to a vibrant Jewish community, I found myself in a warm embrace with a total stranger - a Jewish woman from Paris who hugged me because I was proudly wearing my (not-so-small) Star of David necklace and speaking Hebrew with my children openly in the street.
Standing in front of the statue of Rambam (Maimonides, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon), I asked her if it was as bad in France for Jews as it seems. She said, in her own beautiful Hebrew, “It is worse because we have to hide who we are. I am only waiting for the time that I might live free in Israel, in our homeland.”
On her jacket, she proudly showed me her pin - an emblem of the French Jewish security movement for which she volunteered. For her, staying in France is about her family, the challenges of uprooting oneself to a new society, and, more importantly, of not being willing to let the proliferators of hate win nor to give up on a long history of Jewish life in the very lands where Jewish emancipation was proclaimed.
Now - as a result of the horrific attacks of recent days - instead of demonstrating that terror against the Jewish people will not prevail, the authorities instead was closed down the Great Synagogue of Paris for the first time since the Nazi era. In fact, they insisted that all synagogues be closed for Shabbat; the very place where Jews should be able to gather in unity and express solidarity along with confusion and frustration, fear and hope...
It was reported that all Jewish shops throughout Paris were also been instructed to remain closed. What next? Jews shouldn’t go to school? I was surprised to learn that the Jewish leadership has agreed to these measures for the sake of security.
I do my best to understand their reactions without judgment knowing that they desire to do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of their community.
Sadly, the simplicity of catch-phrase signage is but one example of the total lack of any real solution to the rising threat of terror posed by Islamic fundamentalists. There is certainly no “peaceful resolution” in spite of the politically-correct liberal hope, a hope that simply highlights a certain naivete. But hashtag activism claiming “I am Charlie” or “I am a Jew” is not going to make the paradigmatic change we all hope to see: a world where Jews and all of humanity can live free from the threat of terror.
I have just heard from a friend in Paris…a neighbor rang at her door although they have barely spoken before in spite of living next door for years. Yesterday, they exchanged a few happy new year wishes and finally the woman asked her if she could kindly take the mezuzah off her door. “You would not like to endanger the whole neighborhood would you?"
Once again Jews are to blame. Jews are scapegoated. Even those who have resisted the pressing reality must open their eyes to see this isn’t about Israel. This is about who we are - a nation bound by the Jewish blood running through our veins. The very blood so many want spilled...
As Jews, our response must be to unite as one. One people. One nation. One conscience. It must be to stand proud, and to say never again. To not let ANYONE close our synagogues, our community centers, or force us to hide away our pride but most importantly, the essence of who we are.
Aliyah is certainly an option for some, but not for all. Jews should absolutely have the right to live anywhere in the world without fear of persecution. Our Jewish State is an essential solution to the waves of hate that rise up in every generation, but our Jewish pride can and must exist even when we live outside of her borders.
One of the victims of the Hyper Cacher market attack, Yoav Hattab Z”L, had just come to Israel for the first time a few weeks before the attack. It has been shared that, “[he] learned Hebrew, knew everything about Israeli history. Every day we traveled, he walked around with an Israeli flag on his back. He said that Israel was the only place he could walk freely with a Star of David or Israeli flag. In France, he never could have."
Young Yoav, who reportedly lost his life trying to attack one of the terrorists, is an example of what it can mean to be an Israel-loving Diaspora Jew.
The woman in Spain whose heart is lifted at the sound of Hebrew, whose pride in Israel shines so bright as she serves her community in such important ways, is an inspiration for all of us. Israel lives in their hearts.
It is a part of their being, their identity as Jews and that is the kind of strength we need right now.
Rather than chide French Jews for not immediately packing their bags, let us, instead, heed the words of Rabbi Sitbon of Paris, "There are occurrences in life that are private tragedies, but what happened was not a private incident. The entire nation of Israel was hurt, and because of this everyone must wake up and see themselves as though our brother was wounded there and build upon this pain."
Let us show our brethren, our fellow Jews in France, in Belgium, in London, Australia, Sweden, South Africa, Chicago, Los Angeles or Washington D.C. and in every corner of the world, our support and solidarity.
Let us know we are united not only in the face of terror, but in the vein of hope - the very hope that we sing of in Hatikvah - that our hearts will always turn to Tzion, to Jerusalem, to our Land of Israel, as a source of strength and that there will be peace upon the Jewish people, Israel and all of humanity. Am Yisrael Chai.
Dr. Elana Yael Heideman, Executive Director of The Israel Forever Foundation, is a dynamic and passionate educator who works creatively and collaboratively to create a stronger voice for future Jewish leadership. An independent lecturer and educational consultant, Elana’s range of activities demonstrate the intensity of her commitment to incorporating understanding of and respect for the history of the Jewish People. Through her involvement with numerous programs, projects and lectures, Elana continually seeks to facilitate dialogue and build bridges between the past, present and future.