What a convert can tell the Jews of Europe* and anywhere else

February 17, 2015

It has been over a month since Islamic extremists attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdot and killed Jews in France.  Last weekend the Jews of Denmark and those who appreciate free speech were attacked.  On Sunday, commentator Tucker Carlson was interviewing a witness in Denmark who mentioned there was “security” at the Bat Mitzvah in the Synagogue that was attacked.  Mr. Carlson couldn’t believe Jews in Denmark cannot have a celebration without security.  He said, “Who would want to live like that?”

Mr. Carlson is not Jewish.  However, he was appalled that Jews simply accept their fate.  He gets it.  In the past month my non-Jewish friends and colleagues have asked me the same question.  “Why do they stay?”  Why do Jews feel it is acceptable to live precariously balanced between terror and annihilation?  

When I started attending high-holiday services, I was stunned to see a police car in front of the shul.  I still am.  To a determined individual one cruiser is a good start.  The presence of the police in front of a synagogue, or Jewish Community Centre should not make us feel secure.  It should make us angry.  No other group would tolerate this.  Why do we?

The Prime Ministers of Denmark and France have told their Jews they will protect them.  I know they mean well.  They say a Denmark or France without Jews is simply “unthinkable.”  They also lack the stomach to take on an enemy that is hell bent on destroying everything we hold dear.  In a few weeks the soldiers who are protecting schools, synagogues and community centers will return home.  Life cannot return to normal because “normal” no longer exists.  Instead we will anxiously wait for next time.  There will be another round of pledges, speeches and memorials.   Why do we as Jews, allow ourselves to be placated by eulogies and promises?  What is wrong with us?

American Jews would be foolish to believe that what is happening in Europe will not come here.  The “pond” will not protect us.  Neither will our leaders.  They are kicking the can down the road and somewhere that road comes to an abrupt end.  Our President called the killings at HyperCacher a “random” attack.  Josh Earnest quickly shed the role of press secretary and assumed the role of propaganda minister.  When questioned about the president’s statement, his reply was simply dumbassed.  “The adverb the President chose (random) was used to indicate that the individuals who were killed in that terrible incident were killed not because of who they were but because of where they happened to randomly be.” He went on to say, “These individuals were not targeted by name, that is the point.”   Sorry Mr. Earnest, this is the point.  The person who attacked the store swore his allegiance to the Islamic State.  He chose that store because he wanted to kill Jews.  Apparently the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian men was random.  In his condemnation, the President identified the men as “Egyptian citizens.” These men were killed in cold blood because they were Christians, nothing more.  In less than a year, the oldest Christian communities in the world and the Yazidis have been reduced to rubble.

We need to open our eyes because our leaders have closed theirs.  My grandfather in law was born in Latvia in 1896.  Because Jews could not own their own land, his family rented a farm from a German baron.  Each year grandpa’s father came before the baron to pay the rent.  He carefully laid out coins on the table. The baron would turn the table over and laugh because he delighted in seeing the Jew humiliated.  Grandpa’s father would pick up the coins and place them back on the table.  He kept his head bowed.  He accepted humiliation because that is what was expected of a Jew.  A lot has happened to the Jews in 120 years. The army is called to protect us not slaughter us, but in exchange we are asked to remove our kippot and Stars of David, refrain from carrying Hebrew books in public and avoid “looking Jewish.” It is a different shade of humiliation.  We accept it because the mindset has not changed.

Maybe because I wasn’t born a Jew, I don’t understand this.  My mother’s family left France because they (as Protestants) could no longer tolerate the discrimination.  As a Francophone, I had planned to visit France this summer, but I am going to Quebec instead.  I will not have to hide my Jewishness. I can sample great pastries, and practice my French. Thank you, Canada!

As Jews, we have given the world great literature, art and music.  The very concept of justice, honour, devotion and respect are synonymous with Judaism.  We have given the world two great religions, but we have given so much more. My Native American relatives identified with Judaism because it was similar to their indigenous beliefs.  They were proud of that identity.  I am proud of it.  We should be proud of it.  We do not have to retreat to 1938.  “Never again” should not mean, “Well Maybe.” It is time that we, as People of the “Book” find our spine.

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