Originally posted Friday, January 16th, 2015
Like many people at home and around the world, I'm still processing the tumultuous events that occurred in France in recent days.
On Wednesday, January 7, two French-born Islamist terrorists attacked the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. They killed 12 people that day, including a police officer who was Muslim. The terrorists purported to be acting out of religious motivation in response to the magazine having published cartoon depictions of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Another terrorist who was a friend of the first two, murdered another police officer on Thursday. Then on Friday, the terrorist who had murdered the police officer on Thursday proceeded to attack Hyper Cacher, a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris. Four customers, all Jews shopping in preparation for Shabbat, were gunned down by that terrorist. Other hostages managed to escape to safety. Other hostages were able to remain hidden on the scene thanks to the heroic efforts of a Muslim employee of the kosher market, who also assisted the police in their successful efforts to end the siege and kill the terrorist. Meanwhile, the other two terrorists who had attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices were also killed by police.
On Friday evening, the Grand Synagogue in Paris cancelled services for the first time since World War II out of security concerns.
On Sunday afternoon, more than a million demonstrators, including many world leaders, marched through Paris in a show of solidarity --- French citizens and foreigners, Muslims, Jews, Christians and Atheists. They were there at the urging of the French president Francois Hollande in support of French national ideals of freedom of speech and national solidarity. They marched in opposition to violent religious extremism. They marched in support of the French Jewish community that had been subject to attack. And they marched in support of the vast majority of the French Muslim community who find themselves subject to backlash from those who would unfairly link them to the radicalized terrorist extremists who bring shame upon Islam while claiming to represent it.
And then on Sunday evening, a memorial service for all the victims took place at the Grand Synagogue, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a featured speaker.
The Charlie Hebdo attack reminds us that the exercise of freedom of speech should not be impeded by threats or acts of terrorism. This doesn’t mean that one has to believe that the magazine was wise or thoughtful to print (and to continue to print) cartoons that are intentionally designed to offend religious sensibilities. In that regard, I can say for myself “Je ne suis pas Charlie” (“I am not Charlie”).
But it does mean that those who would carry out such attacks threaten the civilized world and must be reined in.
And the Hyper Cacher attack reminds us that violent anti-Semitism still exists in the world and that vigilance is required against it.
Even though I’m generally not much of a fan of the current Israeli government, I was still very moved at the sight of Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking at the Grand Synagogue in Paris on Sunday night. Reminding all of us that no matter what might happen in France or in any place in the world where we might live, that we have a home in the State of Israel, which is the fulfillment of the historical national aspirations of the Jewish people.
This is a good opportunity to highlight that we are currently in the election season for the 37th World Zionist Congress, which will meet in Jerusalem in fall of 2015. The first Zionist Congress was convened by Theodore Herzl in 1897. Prior to 1948, these Congresses were concerned with establishing a Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisra’el (“The land of Israel”). Since 1948, these Congresses have been the official venue for world Jewry to help shape the vision and priorities of Medinat Yisra’el (“The State of Israel”).
For more information about the current elections, you might wish to read the recent article by J.J. Goldberg in the Forward, which can be found here: http://forward.com/articles/212347/the-zionist-election-you-can-participate-in-if-y/
The American delegation in the World Zionist Congress holds 145 out of the 500 seats. Israel receives 190, allocated by Knesset election results. The rest of the world shares the other 165.
A number of American Zionist organizations are presenting delegate slates representing a spectrum of religious and political positions. Both of the movements with which Temple Israel is affiliated, the Union for Reform Judaism and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities, officially encourage all of us who are eligible to vote in the Zionist elections to vote for the slate put forward by ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. The ARZA platform for the World Zionist Congress advocates for gender equality in Israel, religious equality in Israel for all streams of Judaism, and the pursuit of peace through a commitment to a two-state solution. More information, including voting instructions, can be found at the Reform movement website at https://www.reformjews4israel.org/ or at the Reconstructionist movement site at http://www.jewishrecon.org/resource/vote-give-reconstructionist-views-and-values-voice-israeli-society-today
As Jews, we are part of a global, multicultural, multiracial people with Israel as our spiritual center and homeland. While we demand and deserve to be free to live as equal citizens in all nations including the United States of America, we dare not forsake our connection with the land of our people’s birth and rebirth.
We stand in solidarity with our fellow Jews in France, in Israel and around the world.
And we stand in solidarity with those of all religions -- and those of no religion -- who believe in peace and mutual respect among all humanity.
Rabbi David Steinberg