PARIS – Chabad envoys in France are still under shock over last night’s attack on Rabbi Zion Sa’adon in Marseille by three men who proclaimed themselves Islamic State supporters.
According to Chabad envoy Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Labkovski-Halevy, also from Marseille, the schoolteacher was on his way to a celebration marking the completion of the study cycle of Maimonides’ Mishne Torah.
The celebration was scheduled to take place Wednesday evening at a hall near Sa’adon’s apartment, in one of Marseille’s poorer neighborhoods.
“When Rabbi Sa’adon approached the hall, three men attacked him. They stabbed him in his hand, his foot and his abdomen, threatening to kill him.Luckily, when a car passed there, the three men fled.”
Labkovski-Halevy said he and his friends were deeply affected by the incident.
“We are faced with sheer madness, with hatred – hatred against Jews. It’s almost like poison spreading in these densely populated neighborhoods of the city, where many of the residents are of Muslim origin. I have been feeling this hatred for years, but now the danger has increased.”
Labkovski-Halevy doesn’t blame the police, though.
“What can the police do? They cannot be everywhere.For my part, I was afraid of something of that sort for a long time now. But our mission is to be here, so we must cope with this reality.”
Chabad rabbis and teachers in Marseille have no doubt that the stabbing was an anti-Semitic attack, and point out that the attackers shouted anti-Semitic slurs and showed Sa’adon a photo of Mohammed Merah – the terrorist who attacked the Otzar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse three years ago. The Anti-Defamation League was concerned with the anti-Semitic nature of the incident, which was perhaps inspired by the November 13 Paris attacks.
“Anti-Semitism is a core tenet of Islamic extremist ideology, so attacks on Jews by Islamic State sympathizers should come as no surprise,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO, reportedly said.
On Twitter, the French Jewish Council (CRIF) sharply condemned the attack shortly after it took place. Michèle Teboul, president of the Marseille and Provence CRIF chapter, told The Jerusalem Post that Sa’adon might have been specifically targeted.
“Sa’adon is a teacher and a very well-known figure in his neighborhood,” she said. “Perhaps youngsters from this neighborhood decided to attack a Jew – and chose him. We cannot exclude this possibility.”
Teboul says the situation in Marseille was actually rather calm until a few weeks ago, when a rabbi was attacked. “The Jewish and Arab communities learned over the years to live in coexistence. But suddenly we find ourselves in a new and frightening stage. The Jewish community of Marseille is extremely worried.”
The local CRIF chapter president said she reached out to the Muslim associations and local imams, demanding that they condemn the act publicly.
But so far, she has had no response from them.
“I cannot understand that and cannot accept that,” she said. “We have also requested that the authorities close down four Salafist mosques that are operating in Marseille, and are well known to the French security services.”
CRIF President Roger Cukierman told the Post after the Paris attacks that generally speaking, security forces are doing their most to protect synagogues, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions.
“The police and the army have deployed great forces around our institutions. So our concern now is to make sure that we keep this level of protection,” said Cukierman.
Rabbi Pevzner, one of Chabad’s main pillars in Paris, expressed great concern, especially since yesterday’s stabbing is the second attack in recent weeks against a Jewish looking person in that region.
“We are witnessing a new, alarming set-up,” he said.
“The city of Marseille has become a hub of many radical elements. We have become targets of hostility and crime. We must face this situation and not give up. We praise our father in heaven that Rabbi Sa’adon only suffered light stabbings, and is now recovering from his wounds.’’ Rabbi Taubenblatt, another Chabad envoy from Marseille, is also distraught.
“These people saw a person wearing a kippa and attacked him with a cutter,” Taubenblatt said. “The situation is very difficult in this city, but we cannot leave.
The Jewish community of Marseille has suffered the Holocaust, with denunciations and murders. Nevertheless, it survived. And so, we must stay here to support this wonderful community until the messiah comes, and to bring more light to it – the light of Hanukkah.’’ Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon spoke about the stabbing at an event commemorating Kristallnacht in the UN headquarters in New York Wednesday night.
“The State of Israel was founded to ensure that never again will the survival of the Jewish people be threatened. We will not remain silent and we will never let anti-Semitism to rise again,” he said. “In the 70 years since the end of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps, anti-Semitism has returned to the streets of Europe.”
During his opening remarks, the ambassador showed a burned stone salvaged from the Great Synagogue in Mannheim, Germany, which was set aflame during the night of broken glass in 1938.
“This stone represents one of the darkest times in human history, and the history of the Jewish people,” he told attendees. “The burn marks of hatred and anti-Semitism are, in a very real sense, the cornerstone of this institution, which was established ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.’”Danielle Ziri in New York contributed to this report.