(KVELLER/JTA) — I grew up in a public school that had enough Jewish kids that I felt represented. I went to Hebrew school twice a week and had a chavurah, or fellowship, through my Reform synagogue with kids my age. A portion of my family was Orthodox. I was surrounded by Jews. I always felt like there were a lot of Jews in the United States and the world based on my childhood experience. I was wrong. We are less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, and 0.2 percent of the world population.
Last week in Paris, 17 individuals were killed, including four Jews who were executed when a Muslim terrorist took them hostage in a kosher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, a prominent and well-known Jewish neighborhood. This was a calculated attack on Jews and anyone who happened to be there (including workers at the store, not all of whom were Jewish).
We are told the past few years have seen a global rise in anti-Semitism, especially across Europe. While many could argue that the facts are inflated or biased, and that for the most part we Jews have “made it,” it is undeniable as of last week that Jews are still the center of political arguments around the world for which we are not responsible in any logical way.
Do I think another Holocaust is coming? “Chas v’chalilah” (heaven forbid), no. Do I think Jews need to live in fear of another Holocaust? No. Why not? Because of the existence of the State of Israel.
Politics and controversy over the establishment of the state aside, Israel is a homeland for Jews. Period. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Jews of France after the attacks to seriously consider moving there, as some 7,000 French Jews did last year in the wake of the previous many years of anti-Semitism in France. He told them Israel is their home – and it is true. It is our home. Until people stop dragging Jews into global terrorism perpetrated by cowards who hide behind the peaceful religion of Islam, I need Israel very much. And so do you.
When I took Jewish Studies 101 (an introduction to Judaism) at UCLA as an undergraduate, our instructor had us read a small book called “The Short History of the Jewish People” by Raymond Scheindlin. It detailed major historical events for the past thousands of years of Jewish existence. What struck me then and still astounds me is how for the better part of the past few thousand years, each century – that’s each 100-year period for thousands of years – featured a segregation-related designation placed on the Jews in the communities we lived in all over the world. We were made to live in separate parts of the city walled off from everyone else and to wear distinguishing hats, marks on our coats, and yes, even before the Holocaust, sometimes forced to wear Jewish stars.
And all we want to be is part of the world. Unique, but also universally accepted and assimilated. Our religion allows for it. Our sages preach it. Our greatest minds thrived on it.
I hated last week’s events as a human; to see what humans can do to one another brought me to tears. I hated last week as a person of faith who believes in living by a code of decency and goodness that our Creator established for us on this planet. But mostly, I hated last week as a Jew.
On the day of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, I posted on social media the following: #JeSuisCharlie. We are all Charlie. Especially the artists and satirists and creative minds who make our living by creating and challenging and questioning with artistic expression. We are those artists. We all are the innocents executed in the name of religion, transformed into representatives of liberty and freedom.
On the day of the attacks on the Jews, Kveller contributing editor Jordana Horn‘s tweet caught my eye: #JeSuisJuif. It hit me right in the gut: I am a Jew. (A recent article in the New Yorker notes that #JeSuisJuif didn’t catch on the way #JeSuisCharlie did and explores why people are still afraid to take the side of Jews.)
The Great Synagogue in Paris closed on Shabbat for the first time since World War II. That is astounding to me. I lit extra candles for the four Jews killed this past Shabbat. I told my sons that someone who hates Jews did a very prickly thing in Paris – my older son knows that means someone was killed – and that we are remembering them this Shabbat. I thought of shielding them entirely from the events, but then I recalled images of children being evacuated from the market and I thought of my friends and family who go into bomb shelters with their children in Israel, and I figured, you know what? I can make this part of their reality. Because it is.
What will future authors write about our century? The 20th wasn’t so good. The 21st has started off rough, but maybe in this century it will all turn around. I don’t know.
Until we find out more, I am planning my next trip to Israel. Because “Je Suis Juif” – I am a Jew – and although I am afraid, I am undeniably resilient. I’ve had to be. For thousands of years this has been our existence and it’s not letting up.
And the P.S. to this story is that the four Jews killed last week were just buried in Israel. Their bodies and souls are now together at home.