Dateline: Jerusalem, Saturday evening, January 10, 2015
The snow was swirling around the streets of Jerusalem as Shabbat commenced last evening. The holy city was being majestically painted in white as we walked to Shul. Yet all the white in the world cannot cover up the blood that has been spilled in Paris over the past few days. Beneath the canopy of Jerusalem pine trees enveloped in snow, the world is seething in chaos and ruptured once again by the sheer cruelty of terrorists. I walked to a nearby synagogue composed of mainly French olim (emigrants to Israel) as an act of solidarity after the terrorist act perpetrated against the Jewish community at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris.
"Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" is the tripartite motto of the French Revolution and the encapsulation of western democratic and humanitarian ideals. The radical Islamic terrorists, apparently now linked to Al Queda Yemen, seek to destroy the fundamental pillars of western democracy. With their heinous and barbaric terrorism against Charlie Hebdo, they struck at the freedom of the press, a basic concept of liberty. The journalists at Charlie Hebdo were not intimidated by radical Islam and they boldly used their pen and intellect to combat the intolerance of Islam. Sadly, in France and elsewhere the media has surrendered their freedom of expression when it comes to criticizing radical Islam.
Egalite is the concept of equality and an expression of tolerance and respect in creating an inclusive community. The terrorists seek to drive a wedge through their deadly violence -- singling out the Jewish community and destroying the French concept of egalite. "Je suis Charlie" was the rallying cry on Thursday. "Je suis Juif" (I too am Jewish) needs to be a rallying cry across France. In the ongoing anti-Semitic acts against the Jews of France, and in Europe, governments have been profoundly silent in the face of hatred and bigotry.
Today we stand with France, and in solidarity with liberty, equality and fraternity. The unresolved question is, does France stand in solidarity with her ancient Jewish community, nearly 600,000 strong?
I was honored with an Aliyah to the Torah this Shabbat morning in a synagogue composed of descendants of Jews from Aleppo, Syria. Nearly 200,000 Syrians, all Moslem, have lost their lives in the ongoing internecine battles there. Where has the Muslim leadership around the globe been to condemn that violence? The Muslims of France and elsewhere in Europe are quick to rally and condemn Israel in her battles of self-defense against the terrorists from Gaza but hypocritically have failed to raise their voice against extremist Muslim violence .
The Aliyah I received incorporated the opening chapters of Exodus. The Jewish people have barely been united when Pharaoh decrees a mass murder of newborn Jewish males. The historical response to the unity of our people has been a call to annihilation by those filled with irrational fears. Need I add that historically, in every generation and civilization that has uprooted our people, the dispersion or attempted destruction of our people has led to the inner collapse of that very civilization. Without the Jews, ancient Egypt became a backwater. With the expulsion from Spain, Al Andalus entered a period of great decline. The greatness of the Torah, and our ethics and innovative and creative spirit have always made a significant and salient positive difference in human history in every field and endeavor that Jews have embraced.
France and Europe need to confront how they wish to define themselves. It is easy to condemn barbaric acts: any human being with a conscience can do that. The challenging question is how does Europe vision itself... as a tolerant and inclusive society based upon liberty, equality and fraternity, or is Europe willing to demonstrate intolerance as once again Jews are being targeted, along with the press. The Grand Synagogue in Paris has held services uninterrupted since the Shoah concluded in 1945. This past Friday night, the French government could not guarantee the safety of our people to pray freely and the synagogue was darkened .
Islam is a great monotheistic faith and has demonstrated a tolerant and respectful attitude towards the Jewish people over history. Today, the radical Islam that is ascendant seeks to destroy western values and perpetrate acts of hatred against the Jewish people and the western world. Radical Islamic terrorists have struck on our shores -- from New York in September 2001 to Boston in April 2013 -- and worldwide, with attacks in the past few months alone in Australia, Canada, Belgium, Nigeria, and Kenya. As Saudi journalist Abdelrahman alRashid wrote, "It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but is is almost equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslim ".
In the Bible, the prophet Isaiah envisions a day when all nations will worship before God in Jerusalem. The sublime magnificence of Isaiah and Judaism is that God accepts all people who worship with tolerance and acceptance; God envisions a pluralistic society. In contrast radical Islam seeks to subjugate freedom, tolerance and acceptance to the narrow prism of a radicalized Islam.
A million people may march in France tomorrow united against hatred and bigotry. It is comparatively easy to march against terrorism and fanaticism, to counter hate with hope. The challenge in our world is to condemn and combat fundamentalists who betray faith in their narrow minded hatred and violence. Is the wake-up call in France what we saw after 9/11? May France have the courage to embrace the values of liberty and equality and fraternity for all citizens that seek to live in an open and tolerant society. May the leadership of France have the courage and conviction to embrace its Muslim community that accepts these liberal and humanistic values and to reassert that the Jewish community has a home in France too. As for the radicals who seek jihad, France has now learned what that means and must use all means at their disposal in a democratic society to combat this jihad.
In 2014, 7,000 French Jews made Aliyah to Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu in an address after Shabbat reminded French Jewry that Israel is the bayit yehudi, the home of the Jewish people. Many French Jews are now considering leaving France. That may be good for the Jews, but at what price and peril to France? May our world seek shalom and have the courage to battle on behalf of peace .
Shalom from Israel,
Rabbi Howard R. Buechler
Dix Hills Jewish Center