The Human Spirit: ‘Je suis Hyper Cacher’

The horror scene in Hyper Cacher continues to be eclipsed by the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a sidebar in the cause of protecting freedom of expression.

MOURNERS PAY THEIR RESPECTS at the capital’s Har Hamenuhot cemetery yesterday at the graves of the victims of the Paris Hyper Cacher terrorist attack. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
MOURNERS PAY THEIR RESPECTS at the capital’s Har Hamenuhot cemetery yesterday at the graves of the victims of the Paris Hyper Cacher terrorist attack.
 Je suis Hyper Cacher.
I saw the post, by a Swedish person, on the Hyper Cacher supermarket chain’s Facebook page last week.
I liked it.
The Kouachi brothers’ attack at the Charlie Hebdo magazine editorial office, an attempt to silence by force the ideas put forth by the political cartoonists, roused the ire of the French nation and the world – just as the Boston Marathon bombing did.
Setting my Shabbat table in Jerusalem, I left the television on until candle-lighting, following the news, which drew more than 80,000 law enforcement officers to the stake-out.
One of the foreign commentators worried that there were too many law enforcement officers in one place. The city was vulnerable to a second attack.
And then it came; suddenly, there was a reported second focus.
Not another symbol of French emancipation; no, the Hyper Cacher, a neighborhood kosher market.
It’s easy for those of us who frequent kosher supermarkets when we travel abroad to picture it, packages of Israeli soup mixes, shelves of wine, refrigerator cases of cheeses.
An hour before the store was closing on Friday afternoon before Shabbat, shoppers running in for those last-minute purchases – extra grape juice, maybe there’s a halla left, a packet of croutons.
The sickening feeling of the Jews captured and attacked, trying to protect their children, not knowing if they will ever see their loved ones again.
The horror scene in Hyper Cacher continues to be eclipsed by the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a sidebar in the cause of protecting freedom of expression, the rousing response of fraternity and solidarity in the Paris street.
Hyper Cacher continues to haunt me.
Why did the terrorists, working in tandem, choose an inconspicuous deli? Because they needed to make their message clear. This is never only about Western freedom – it’s also about the Jews.
Just ask the Islamists in Algeria who honored the Kouachi brothers – whose family is from Algeria – as local heroes. When they celebrated the slaying of the magazine staff, they shouted, “Strike France and the Jews.”
The Charlie Hebdo massacre was an internationally planned and executed attack on a renowned satirical magazine by a large terror network. Did al-Qaida in Yemen or Islamic State also dispatch a gunner to a neighborhood shop carrying kosher bread and salami? In its post-massacre investigative piece, based on hundreds of pages of documents and the legwork of many reporters, The New York Times details the evolution of Cherif Kouachi from “an easily spooked amateur jihadist” a decade ago to the hardened killer of January 2015. But even back in 2004, Kouachi was obsessed with slaughtering Jews in their neighborhood shops in Paris.
And so, before the world’s attention moved on, comrade Amedy Coulibaly fulfilled for him this important part of his demonic goal. Carrying two guns and a commando knife, Coulibaly burst through the deli door.
Coulibaly grew up in a large family that had immigrated from the Republic of Mali, a West African country where most have never even met a Jew. There is no Jewish community, although there are some 1,000 alleged descendants of Jews in Timbuktu.
Coulibaly murdered four Jewish men and held the other supermarket staff and customers hostage. At the same time, in a scene reminiscent of the Holocaust, Lassana Bathily, another man from Mali, hid Jews in a cold storage room and slipped out to help the police. This Righteous Gentile was first mistaken for a terrorist.
Only after the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent attack on a security guard in 2013 did police make the connection between the terrorist Tsarnaev brothers and an unsolved 2011 triple homicide in Waltham, Massachusetts.
At least two, maybe all three, of the victims were Jews – their throats slit from ear to ear, with such great force that they were nearly decapitated. Sound familiar? Can we not assume that for the Tsarnaevs, the fight wasn’t just against freedom – it was also against the Jews? The Grand Synagogue of Paris – not particularly close to the deli, but the ultimate symbol of French Jewry – was closed for services the first time since World War II.
The prime minister of the State of Israel isn’t wanted, the media say. Better he should stay home.
I know it is election season and in our country of Charlie Hebdo-like free press, almost everything is fair game for verbal attacks, but imagine how we would have felt if our prime minister had been absent like the president of the United States. Imagine the families of the victims sitting through the evening service at the synagogue without the head of the Jewish state – as if the Jews of the Diaspora were not our concern.
Half the hate crimes in France are reportedly visited on Jews, who make up less than 1 percent of the population, according to The Guardian.
Our prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wasn’t wanted because the French didn’t want their narrative to be diluted with the embarrassing woes of the Jews.
The banality of that reaction is what might encourage the Jews of France to act on their Zionist instincts, not the fear of anti-Semitism.
And then I open the International New York Times, and wince at the headline: “Netanyahu sells French Jews short.”
The writer, Bernard Avishai, who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire (as opposed to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of the Boston Marathon attack studied), seems puzzled by what Israel could offer our French Jewish brethren.
Dr. Avishai, who describes himself as an Israeli-American, insists that emancipated French Jews would be disappointed by the lack of strict civil equality, that they would be lost in secular Hebrew culture and under our Orthodox religious hierarchy. And of course, they won’t find “an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.”
I guess Dr. Avishai is a New Englander, now. That’s where I, an American-Israeli, grew up. Back in my hometown of Colchester, Connecticut, we made important decisions by town meeting (often moderated by my father, who also moderated the Free Loan Society in Yiddish). We had voting machines brought in for student council elections so that we’d get used to voting when we grew up. We recited the Gettysburg Address on the village green across from the white Congregational Church, and we had an annual test with awards on the American Constitution and Bill of Rights.
I won that prize, but I don’t see the lessthan- ideal aspects of Israeli democracy as a barrier to living here. Just the opposite. As part of the Jewish people, I see myself as part of the ongoing efforts to make change and perfect this state using the same tools as we had in Colchester: the voting booth, demonstrations, impacting the media. And there have been changes.
That’s the opportunity which exists for French Jews who might consider moving here.
Moving to Israel is a multifaceted decision and challenge, as nearly every reader of this column knows. No one needs to tell us there is no guarantee of personal safety. We have strapped gas masks on toddlers and wept with a mix of pain and pride as our children board those buses that take away teenagers and bring back soldiers. Who among us has not heard the obscene blast of terrorist bombs and rockets? The recent terrorist attack in Jerusalem’s Har Nof took place in a neighborhood synagogue.
One of the murderers worked in the corner deli, and used a meat cleaver to crush the brains of the Jews at prayer.
When I was a girl reading the Passover Haggada in Colchester, I remember feeling that the sentence “In every generation, they rise up to attack us,” no longer applied. You can understand my mistake.
What we offer in Israel isn’t safety – it’s meaning.
In Jerusalem today, I have French immigrant neighbors in the apartments above and below me. They didn’t run away from France, they ran towards being part of this conflicted, argumentative, magnifique little Jewish country – the only one we have. ■
The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel.
She serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns are her own.