The anti-Semitic attacks in France began long before the terror in Paris. For some time, Jews have been leaving their homelands and moving to Israel. The U.S. should also open its gates.
Since I’ve lived in the United States, my heart laughs every time I see a synagogue or other Jewish institution. Why? Because I can simply walk in. Those who come from Europe are used to something different: bulletproof glass, metal detectors, police officers with machine guns and Israeli security forces. Jewish institutions — at least in Germany — are forts; within them, it is like a permanent state of siege. This is naturally unhealthy for the psyche. In America, there is sometimes a police car on the street for special occasions. That is all.
I have always loved this openness; it was like a sigh of relief for me. However, since last week, my happiness has cracked. As I went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, it occurred to me that a lunatic with a machine gun could cause a huge bloodbath here. In a pause in the prayer I spoke with our young rabbi about this.
He said that in the future there would be more people who pay attention to what happens on the street in front of the synagogue. He also said, however, that there were no plans to wall ourselves in — that would contradict the spirit of our synagogue’s community. Of course he was right.
Asylum for Jews in the U.S.?
Meanwhile, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, a fairly well-known rabbi from Washington, published an article in the Washington Post in which he urged the American government to offer asylum to European Jews. The attack on Charlie Hebdo and the murder of four Jews in a kosher supermarket are only one part of a continued attack on Jews in the European diaspora.
The United States, Herzfeld writes, should not repeat the capital moral error that they made in Nazi times, as they rammed shut the gates before Jewish refugees from Europe. Of course, today the nation of Israel exists; however, many Jews cannot speak Hebrew or have other reasons to not want to settle in the Zionist state.
The list of anti-Semitic attacks which Herzfeld cites is long and depressing: demonstrators who shout “Jew, France is not yours”; a woman with a baby carriage who was attacked by a man, who said to her face, “dirty Jewess, enough with your children already, you Jews have too many children, screw you.”
The Turning Point in 2006
The turning point for many Jewish French citizens actually already came in 2006, when Ilan Halimi was kidnapped and tortured to death over three weeks by an anti-Semitic gang. Since then, the violence has not stopped. In July, an angry mob attempted to storm the Abravanel Synagogue in Paris.
From a German point of view, I could add a lot to Rabbi Herzfeld’s list. Kippa-wearers in Germany must always anticipate a beating. And no one may say that violence against Jews only comes from Muslim immigrants.
When a small group with an Israeli flag recently wanted to join the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA, demonstrators in Dresden, they were retaliated against with open hatred. Besides that, let’s not forget that after the 2012 court decision in Cologne, which forbade religious circumcision of boys, many Germans found it completely acceptable to inform the Jews that lived among them that their archaic customs do not belong in a civilized land.
However, there is also the Jewish-American journalist Claire Berlinski who lives with her father in Paris. She wrote in a furious blog post that she does not have the slightest wish to leave her city: “not because of a handful of terrorist swine, and not even if there’s an army of them. This family of Jews will not be driven out of Europe twice. And as far as I’m concerned, the response a Jew should have to this outrage is the one we should have had before — when up against a far more fearsome enemy. We may die, but we’ll die fighting, and you’ll be amazed how many of you we take down with us.”
No doubt that is a brave answer, and it could very well be that many French Jews share this sentiment. As Benjamin Netanyahu was in the Great Synagogue of Paris, he was met with cries of “Bibi, Bibi” — even from people who disagree with his politics and who would, if they could, vote him out of office.
In translation, this means: how good that Israel exists. How good that we have our own land and our own army. However, then the people in the synagogue spontaneously sang, not the Israeli national anthem, but rather the Marseillaise. (It was difficult not to think of the famous scene from Casablanca.) We are proud French citizens, this should mean. We will not allow ourselves to be robbed of this fatherland by any murderer who comes in.
However, one must at the same time admit that the exodus of French Jews has been going on for a while. Nearly 7,000 of them immigrated to Israel in 2014 — twice as many as in the preceding year. In a survey of 3,833 Jewish French citizens, it emerged that 74 percent of them are considering leaving the country.
Naturally it is a completely individual decision whether one stays or goes. The pictures of the large demonstration in Paris also moved me. It is not true that France has shown no solidarity with the Jews. I also gladly believe that the majority of Muslims look on the bloodbaths in Paris with horror. In spite of that, I sometimes ask myself what those Jews who remain in Europe actually want to prove: that Hitler did not win? But he did win.
He won the war against the Jews. The Polish Jews, once a blooming community, were nearly entirely wiped out. The same goes for the communities in Lithuania, which were once centers of Jewish scholarship. Thessaloniki, which David Ben-Gurion once described as the most Jewish city in the world, was made “Jew-free” by Eichmann and his ilk within a few months after March 1943: 40,000 men, women and children were deported to Birkenau and gassed.
In the U.S., Being a Jew Is Relaxed
That in our days we are seeing an outbreak of anti-Semitic furor like we have not experienced since the end of the World War II is actually just a postscript, nothing more.
I also do not want my son to grow up in a Europe that is essentially an enormous Jewish cemetery. I do not want for someone to spit in his face because he wears a kippa. I do not want for him to have to hear that his archaic customs do not belong in this country.
He should grow up in an environment in which being Jewish is something entirely undramatic, is almost even boring. Besides, I would of course be pleased if there were more kosher French restaurants in New York. And therefore Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld is right: the United States should open its gates already.
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