French-American Jew Helen Loeb was invited to speak at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood, Penn. on the terrorist attacks last week in Paris and the state of the France’s Jewish community.
Many have come to me in the past few days to express their sympathy and ask about the well-being of my family. Many have also come to me to inquire and reflect about the future of the French Jewish community. So where do I start?
I am appalled by the current developments in France, of course, but also in Brussels and other places in Europe.
I grew up in Toulouse, infamous for the murder of one rabbi and 3 children just about two years ago. The Ozar Hatorah school is just 2 miles from where I grew up, where my mother and sister still live. Used to be known for its aeronautical industry and opera singing, Toulouse has become a symbol of antisemitism and homegrown terrorism.
Last Sunday saw the largest rally in France since World War II, with powerful images of many world leaders walking hand in hand in the streets of Paris, and powerful words as well.
I want to salute the forceful and inspiring speech of the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, who declared at the Assemblée Nationale that “Without its Jews, France will no longer be France,” that France is at war against terrorism, jihad-ism and radical Islam. Powerful words delivered with passion, which so I want to believe.
I want to believe that France, touched at its heart by the carnage of Charlie Hebdo will join ranks with Israel and the U.S. to fight Islamic terrorism.
I want to believe that the political powers will grow a spine and address the roots of home grown terrorism. I want to believe that they will restore law and order in the French banlieues where young people, some not even Muslim, are brainwashed into radical Islam and terrorism.
I want to believe that the Holocaust will be taught in every single school or college in France.
I want to believe that the well-intentioned moderate Muslims, that brandished the sign “Je suis Juif,” “I am Jewish” at last Sunday’s rally, will live up to their gesture and denounce hate speech in their own community.
For all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. As Manuel Valls so eloquently put it, it is not just the fate of the French Jewish community which is at stake, but the conscience of humanity.
So what will happen of the French Jewish Community? Will the 6,658 French Jews who made aliyah in 2014 be followed by a massive exodus, just like the migration from the Arab countries in the 1960s? A simple question, yet the answer is complex.
As I look into my own family I can sense an increased interest for aliyah without a formal commitment. The French community has been tried before with attacks at Rue des Rosiers, Rue Copernic, and the Chez Joe Goldenberg restaurant in the 1980s, all by anti-Semitic Muslims.
Yet France is no Nazi Germany. It is still a vibrant democracy to which most French Jews are attached. Only time will tell if the French political leaders will succeed in rebuilding the fabric of the French society.
Finally, I want to address my deepest condolences to the families of the 17 victims: Charb, Tignous, Cabu, Wolinski, Honore, Michel, Bernard, Frank, Frederic, Elsa, Ahmed, Mustapha, Clarissa, Yoav, Yoann, Francois Michel and Philippe.
Some fell as they carried high the right for freedom of expression which is so dear to our hearts. Others fell as they wore the French uniform in their duty to maintain law and order. Still others fell for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. And of course, some fell simply because they were Jewish, visiting a kosher grocery store as they prepared for Shabbat.
I alsp want to honor Lassana Bathily, the Malian Muslim employee who risked his own life to save seven customers of the kosher grocery store.
Let us fight for freedom of speech, the fundamental value of our democracies, while recognizing and condemning hate speech wherever it may be. Let us hope and pray for our leaders to unite and fight homegrown terrorism, whether in Toulouse, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Madrid or Boston.