Seismologists know that the aftershocks which follow earthquakes can often be even more devastating than the earthquake itself. In the aftermath of the horrendous terror attack upon the kosher supermarket in Paris, we have been witness to a series of events which are shaking Europe to its core.
Jewish schools and synagogues in Belgium – which were forced to close this past week due to terrorist threat – are under constant armed guard; anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise in England – where surveys indicate that half the Jewish population sees no future in the UK ; and Jewish communities from Spain to Germany to Holland also fear for their safety.
But the primary focus is on France, which has the largest Jewish population in Europe – between 500,000 and 600,000 – as well as a huge and growing Muslim population that is 10 times larger.
French Jewry, it seems, is coming to a crossroads and must soon make a decision as to whether it will remain in its “sanctuary by the Seine,” or leave the Louvre and bid farewell to Fontainebleau Forest. For most Parisians, it is neither an easy nor a pleasant choice.
Jews have lived in France since at least the fourth century. Pointedly, the first documents chronicling a Jewish presence in France relate to anti-Jewish laws, such as those prohibiting Jews from holding public office or owning land. Though Jews continued to come to France, and many prospered, they were under severe pressure from the Christians rulers and suffered every kind of injustice and indignity.
They built a synagogue on the Île de la Cité in the sixth century, only to see it torn down and a church erected in its place. There were widespread persecutions against Jews in the Middle Ages – France had its very own Inquisition – and countless acts of Jew-hatred, including the burning of the Talmud in 1242. King Louis IX, in a desperate attempt to drive his Jewish subjects from their religion and humiliate them, set fire to 12,000 sacred books in public ceremonies that presaged the later burning of Jewish books by the Nazis.
For his efforts, Louis was later canonized and made a saint. Jews were expelled from France in 1182, 1306 and again in 1394, only allowed back into the country some 300 years later.
While the reign of Napoleon, and the Emancipation, brought official acceptance and recognition of Jews and Judaism, the general French public retained much of its anti-Semitism.
Until the 20th century, Jews had to take the “Oath of the Jews,” or More Judaico, admitting their sins against the church and how they were deserving of the curses outlined in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, not to mention the Ten Plagues. The virulent hatred of the French towards the Jews was revealed for all to see in the infamous Dreyfus Affair in 1894, and in the avid collaboration between the French and the Nazis, particularly in Vichy France.
Working hand-in-hand with the Gestapo, Vichy France sent more than 75,000 French Jews to their death.
In more modern times, the French have channeled their anti-Semitic bias into antagonism towards Israel. I recall, as a young student, participating in protests against French policies towards the Jewish state; I can still hear the calls, “Of all de Gaulle!” and “Poo, poo, Pompidou!” ringing in my ears. The French placed an embargo on arms to Israel; refused to extradite arch-terrorist Abu Daoud, one of the planners of the Munich massacre; and now, the current French government has rushed to “recognize” Palestine as a “state,” despite the Palestinian Authority’s unity agreement with the terrorists of Hamas.
The torture and killing of Ilan Halimi, the murderous attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse, the riot against Jewish stores and synagogues during the recent Gaza War, and last week’s murder of four holy Jews in Paris all bring us to only one conclusion: France – like all of Europe – is no place for a Jew.
The response from European leaders has been to make an impassioned plea for the Jewish population to stay put.
The French president says, “France will not be France if the Jews leave”; Germany’s Angela Merkel promises, “We will look after and protect our Jews.”
“Our” Jews?! Since when did Germany – of all places – claim ownership of Jews? This is rhetoric reminiscent of the worst times in the history of the Jewish Exile; when we had to cower beneath the wings of some “benevolent” pope or duke to protect us from the rampaging mob. Then, as now, we were afraid to wear our kippot in public or openly celebrate Jewish holidays on the streets of Europe.
Perhaps most shocking of all – I almost lost my lunch when I saw this, on international TV, yet! – was the statement by certain European rabbinic “leaders” urging Jews not to make any “rash” decisions. When asked by a CNN interviewer, “Are you advising the Jewish population here to leave for Israel?” the rabbi replied, with a straight face, “I am asking the Jews of France to remain where they are, and to build up our community here.”
I close my eyes, and I hear the same tragic statements being uttered in the Berlin of 1934, the Warsaw of 1941 and the Budapest of 1943. “Just calm down, stay here and don’t worry; it will all be all right.”
Have we learned nothing?! Now, no one suggests that life in Israel is risk-free. We have our own unique set of problems, and face our own dangers.
But there is a major difference between Europe and Israel: We are going in opposite directions.
Imagine two triangles: one standing on its base; the other above it, inverted.
The bottom triangle is Europe; if it ever was a decent place for Jews to live, its hope and hospitality is rapidly shrinking, and no amount of wishful thinking or misdirected Jewish money will resurrect it. As Islam spreads its net over Europe, things will only get worse, and Jews will be the first victims.
Israel, on the other hand, may have begun as a tiny, beleaguered outpost in the desert, but it has grown exponentially into a dynamic, thriving oasis of Jewish life and learning that embodies the collective answer to billions of prayers over thousands of years. Our best years are still ahead of us.
Dear brothers and sisters of Europe: Ignore the false prophets – Jewish and non – and gather up your courage, your belongings and your families, and come to Israel. Granted, it will not be easy leaving behind the grand sites of the continent.
But your return to your one, true home, your native land, will be – for you, and for us – the greatest Arc de Triumph. ■
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; firstname.lastname@example.org.