My life, as of late, has not been centered on being Jewish, practicing Judaism, etc. It is, however, entirely ingrained in Jewish culture right now. I wake up in the morning and commute to a school where the large majority of children are Jewish, some who keep Kosher and even kiss the mezuzah every time they enter the English room. I attend Friday night dinners to “receive” Shabbat where I am surrounded by Jews who are happy and present and all want an excuse to eat a huge meal.
I buy Challah at the local bakery. I enjoy the carless streets on Shabbat. I walk amongst yarmulke-wearing college students and married women who cover their hair. I enjoy (many) days off for Jewish holidays. It’s not a feeling I have every day, but I stop to think, and even though I am not what most consider “religious”, I feel a sense of belonging and security. I feel Jewish.
And with this heightened sense of Judea, the recent shootings in France have unearthed an immense sense of fear and sadness within me, for the Jewish people and humanity as a whole. I find myself asking, “How did things get so bad for the Jews?” More importantly, “Where do we go from here?”
It’s important to note here that I realize Jews today as a persecuted minority are, and should be, lower on list of extreme religious, racial and economical suffering. But like I said, I am writing through the lens of someone entrenched in Judaism head to toe right now. And with anything in this world, empathy comes from a sense of understanding and more importantly, relation.
So again, where do we go from here? Israel exists as a homeland and a source of refuge for persecuted Jews around the world, so it would make sense for many French Jews to feel the urge to emigrate after the last few rollercoaster years. They want to feel security and seek an accepting home free of anti-Semitic tensions.
And move they do. Almost 7,000 French Jews made Aliyah last year and in response to the recent events in Paris, many more are expected, and encouraged, to do the same. Netanyahu was one of those to encourage the French to make a change saying that, “Israel is your home.”
As a Jew living in Israel right now, I can say that this is most acceptance I’ve felt in my entire life. I understand why families are leaving their lifelong homes and moving to Israel. But is this a problem? Well…no, Israel exists for this sole purpose, does it not?
I have to question, though, whether this pilgrimage is hurting rather than helping. It’s been written that European anti-Semitism is the highest it’s been since World War II. I’m afraid that if people leave in lieu of this statistic, we are letting ignorance win. If we are allowing anti-Semitic people to live in a society without Jews, are we not perpetuating the issue? Wouldn’t we be giving them what they want?
No one wants to purposely put themselves and their family in harms way by staying in a place ridden with terror and hate. Israel, surprisingly enough, may be the safest and most enjoyable place to be right now for Jews. But what about in a year when another war starts in Gaza? It’s an unfortunate truth, but I am one of those people who believe terror will always exist. People are just too different and fanatics will always rise from the ashes. Maybe my opinion will change though, especially after attending a meeting with a group called Women Wage Peace. This 6,000+ group of women believes a political resolution that establishes peace in Israel is possible. They think it is possible, not definite, as one member told me, “If Israel ceases to exist, at least we can say we tried.”
But if ever-existing terror is the case, trying to win this cat and mouse game by simply moving a few thousand miles away seems just plain futile. But that’s a decision each person has to make. I just hope that with this increased Zionistic movement, Jews remaining in areas of heightened anti-Semitism stay true to some sort of faith – to not hide in the shadows but live life to the fullest.
And me? To avoid feeling like a bystander in all of this, I create within me a responsibility to the Jewish people to learn more about my heritage and culture. I create a responsibility to the Israeli people to enjoy all that this country has to offer. I am even reveling a bit in the irony that I’m living in a country where many of my friends and family were afraid for me to move, yet thousands of people feel like it’s the safest place to be. Right now, anyway.