Several thousand people gather to pay tribute to victims of a shooting by gunmen at the offices of Charlie Hebdo during a demonstration in Marseille, January 10.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For the past few years, each time a horrendous terrorist attack has rocked the world, nearly every freedom-loving person has asked the same fundamental questions: Where are the moderate voices of the world? Why are the millions of Muslims who appreciate freedom and democracy not lifting up their voices in unity against the brutal terrorism taking place in the name of their religion? Why is the voice of reason and hope so eerily silent, allowing the vicious bloodshed to speak the loudest? Why isn’t there a unified fight against terrorism? The free world ended 2014 with prayers for new beginnings and hope for a change of direction from the violent path it was heading in. Despite the evil in our midst, none of us is ready to give up trying to create a bright future for our children and grandchildren. The Jewish people especially has experienced many catastrophes throughout history, yet we have never raised our white flag in defeat, and we’re certainly not going to start now. The New Year brings with it new hope, and freedom-lovers across the world rang in the Gregorian New Year with raised glasses to the prospect of renewed peace in the world.
Yet that hope was quickly shattered.
In the first week of January, the ruthless terrorist group Boko Haram carried out one of the deadliest attacks in years, killing as many as 2,000 people in Nigeria. In Afghanistan, Yemen, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt, there have been numerous attacks since the beginning of the year. Yet terrorist attacks in these regions of the world have become so routine that they’re barely reported on anymore.
But then it happened: an atrocious and dreaded attack on the West. Seventeen innocent people were killed in Paris.
We all knew that a big attack like this in the West was possible, yet we were praying so hard that 2015 would be the year that brings us peace, not an escalation in the bloodshed.
And so last week, once again, as the reports flooded in of the massacres in Paris, I found myself slamming my fists down on the table and screaming out the burning questions we have all been asking for years. “When will the world wake up from our slumber and realize that the Islamic terror threat is a viable threat to our children and grandchildren’s future? When will people on all sides of the political and religious spectrum understand that the Western world is not safe from the plague of terror tearing through the Middle East? When will the free world stop bickering about small disagreements and stand unified in this threat to our very existence?” And then it happened. Unexpected headlines of hope flooded my television screen.
Horrific pictures of the bloodshed were replaced with phenomenal aerial photos of Paris streets packed with millions of people standing united against the terrorism in their midst. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists found common ground in their shared struggle for survival, and together they marched for freedom through the bloodied and desecrated streets of the French capital.
Reading the news reports, it felt like a dream. I watched 40 world leaders link arms and declare their united support of the fight against terrorism, and I saw Palestinian and Israeli protesters hug after realizing that they were protesting for the same cause. I watched Arabs and Jews dance together with passion, laughter and intention, as after 67 years of fighting it dawned on them that maybe, just maybe, there is hope for peace – they just might be on the same side after all. I read that one of the people who saved Jewish lives in the attack on the kosher supermarket was a Muslim, who turned off a freezer and locked Jewish patrons inside in order to protect them. As I sat in front of my computer screen witnessing what felt like a prophetic vision, it was this ancient Jewish saying that kept running through my mind: “Salvation from God can come in the blink of an eye.”
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov teaches that each time we pray, even if we do not see immediate change, we are creating a reservoir of prayer that builds up and eventually comes pouring down, like a dam when it breaks.
For many years, we have been praying with all of our hearts for peace, and even though it might have felt like our prayers were being denied, I have full faith that each prayer has been heard. And perhaps now is the time that the delicate prayer levee will break and peace will come pouring in.
I like to believe that this historic peace march in Paris was not just symbolic. I so much want to believe that this is the start of a united fight against terrorism. But no matter what the next few months hold, the march showed me that peace is possible. Unity is possible. And it can come in the blink of an eye.
The writer is senior vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.