Should the Jews of France leave before murderous attacks on their community multiply? And what if I was one of them, having to make that decision? I have been pondering these questions in the aftermath of the twin assaults on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish market. With scores of jihadists returning every day to their homes in Europe after training/ fighting in Syria and Iraq and Yemen, it is realistic to believe that what we witnessed last week will happen again and again. And while there were zillions of “Je suis Charlie” signs, there weren’t very many of the “Je suis Juif” variety. Coupled with an earlier fatal attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse in 2102 and numerous assaults that don’t make the news, French Jews are getting increasingly nervous.
In fact, last year 7,000 French Jews emigrated to Israel as anti-Semitism spiked across France, fed by tensions with the country’s large Arab population after the outbreak of Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. As Jeffrey Goldberg from The Atlantic put it, talking about that time: “when people are yelling ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas,’ these are not people who are worried about Israeli settlement policy. They have some deeper pathologies at work.” So aliyah is up, double the previous year, making France, for the first time, the No. 1 source of immigration to Israel. Officials in Israel are expecting — and encouraging — a new influx following the Paris standoff.
Our man (and former congregant) in Paris, John Broder, News Editor for the New York Times International, has been feeding me material on this. One piece is from an interview on Israel’s Channel 10 TV Saturday, in which Yohan Cohen, one of the hostages who hid inside a freezer at the kosher market for five hours during the hostage-taking, said he would now move his family of four children to Israel. “On Monday I am going to make Aliyah,” he said, “we are not going to wait around here to die.”
Overall, immigration to Israel was up 88 percent from Western Europe in 2014, with surges also from Italy, Belgium and Britain, according to the Jewish Agency. Experts say European Jews have not felt this threatened since World War II, when six million Jews were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. Many Jews who remain are taking their own precautions: An Israeli mother of three, who has been living in Berlin for several years, said she no longer allows her children to talk in Hebrew outside the home. “When we are outside, I tell my kids to only speak English. I’m too afraid that somebody will recognize that we are Jewish or Israeli and then harm us,” said the woman, who did not want to give her name out of fear.
Other European Jews feel quite differently. They and their community leaders have urged people to stay in their homelands. “The European Jewry is the oldest European minority and we have our experience of surviving under all possible circumstances,” Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, told The Associated Press. “We will not give up our motherland, which is called Europe. We will not stop the history of European Jewry, that is for sure.” In France, no less than the Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, made this reassuring statement (accompanied by actions to beef up security at Jewish institutions): “If 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.” Haim Korsia, the chief rabbi of France, emphasized the Jews’ 2,000-year history in France in comments to iTele. “We dream in French, we think in French, our culture is French, our language is French,” he said. “Obviously France is our country.” And, most strikingly, at the Grande Synagogue Sunday evening – when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressing a large group suggested that French Jews move to the Jewish state – the people there broke into La Marseillaise.
I have a question and a comment. The question: if you were there, would you be looking into living elsewhere or would you be singing La Marseillaise at the top of your lungs? The comment: it is barely 75 years since the worst act of genocide in history was visited upon European Jewry, and already rising anti Semitism and feelings of vulnerability have returned. I find that a very depressing reality, that so soon after the Holocaust the conversations about staying or leaving – similar to what European Jews were having in the late 30’s – are having to happen again. I wish I saw things moving in a better direction. Maybe the horror at what just happened in Paris will produce a sea change, then the terrible loss of life will not have been in vain.
Want to help? Consider donating to our Masorti movement’s Emergency Security Campaign for Synagogues in France , or you can write a letter of support that will be shared with all Masorti rabbis and communities by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ponder all this and have as good a Wednesday as possible. Bill Rudolph
P.S. Kol Haneshama is having an even more special Friday night service this week at 6:30PM. Israel Media Series with more wonderful Shtisel is Saturday night at 7:30PM. Family Sports Night is just ten days away.