(see below for full photo gallery)
In a show of support for the victims of the terror attacks in France earlier this month that targeted a kosher supermarket and the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Louisville’s Jewish community, joined by friends and supporters from other faith communities came together at a rally on Sunday, January 18, at the Jewish Community Center.
Sponsored by the JCL’s Jewish Community Relations Council and organized in collaboration with the Louisville Board of Rabbis and Cantors, the program was meaningful and moving.
There are two issues here, said JCRC Chair Becky Ruby Swansburg, who emceed the event: freedom of speech and support for the French Jewish community.
One expected result of anti-Semitism in France, Swansburg explained, is an increase in aliyah – the number of Jews emigrating from France to Israel. To put it in perspective, she said, 10,000 French Jews are expected to make aliyah in the coming year. If the same thing happened in Louisville, there would no longer be a Jewish community here.
And, she added, anti-Semitism is not a problem limited to France. It is evident across Europe.
U.S. Representative John Yarmuth, who expressed solidarity with the French Muslim and Jewish communities, said he speaks as both a journalist who wrote satire and a public official with great respect for the first amendment, which includes the intimately related freedoms of speech, religion, assembly and press.
No one should ever die, he said, because of what they think is right, what they say, draw, worship or believe in. “It is always immoral to take another’s life in the name of your beliefs.”
The organization Interfaith Paths to Peace was instrumental in spreading the word of the rally to other faith groups. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said that Louisville has an unparalleled tradition of interfaith activity that functions well as one community of many faiths working together. Through this rally and similar gatherings around the world, a clear message is being sent to the terrorists that we won’t stand by and watch, but will push back.
Via Skype, Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, the Paris director of the American Jewish Committee, reported that the situation in France has gone from bad to worse. With the murder of four Jews in a kosher market in Paris now and the 2012 murders of four at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, the Jewish community is worried.
“For most of us,” she said, “what happened was not a surprise. We knew something like this would happen. … Now our fear is that it is not going to end there. We are on an emotional rollercoaster, [feeling] shock and fear, but also a feeling of unity.”
The Sunday before Louisville’s rally, Rodan-Benzaquen said 4 million people were on the streets of Paris, “standing up to say no, we will not fear. We will stand up and fight for what we believe in.” Yet the Jewish community is still fearful to pursue normal Jewish activities like going to synagogue or to Jewish day schools. The future of the French Jewish community depends on the policy of the government and how it deals with the issues.
“It’s not just about the Jewish community,” she said, “but about the values of the West and of democracy. The French prime minister says we are at war with radical Islam. We need to continue to be outspoken.”
She expressed heartfelt appreciation for the support the Jewish community in Louisville showed and thanked the many supporters she could see on the webcam.
Dr. Muhammad Babar, speaking on behalf of the Muslim community, said “we must believe that all victims … are martyrs of humanity” and those who shed blood in the name of religion are ignorant.
Dr. Babar said he was saddened by the pornographic drawing of the prophet, but those who kill in the prophet’s name have insulted Islam and live in direct opposition to the tenets of their professed faith. Those people are the minority, he said. “Today, we are all French, Jewish, Muslim and Christian.”
During the program, Cantor Sharon Hordes sang the American and Israeli national anthems and Cantor David Lipp sang the French national anthem. In addition, Cantor Lipp sang Eil Malei Rachamim, the traditional Jewish prayer for the souls of the departed, and Rabbi Stanley Miles lit a memorial candle led the assembly in the Mourner’s Kaddish, which he explained is a prayer about life, not death.
Stu Silberman, president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville, and his daughter, Rachel, welcomed everyone. Those in attendance came from all parts of the Jewish community and several other faith groups.
The day following the brutal attacks in France, the leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America spoke with the leaders of the Jewish community there and asked them what they needed from us. They answered in clear, categorical terms: your support. In addition to many expressions of support already sent, JFNA is now planning a solidarity mission to France to be led by David Brown, Chair of the JFNA Global Operations: Israel and Overseas Council.
The mission will take place February 8-10 with participants departing on the evening of Saturday, February 7. During the mission participants will visit the Hyper Cacher Market and spend time with the families who lost loved ones, hear from French government officials and Jewish leadership, and meet with the editor of Charlie Hebdo in its temporary location.
The Jewish Agency is also organizing a mission, led by Carole Solomon, former chair of The Jewish Agency Board of Governors. The Jewish Agency fact-finding trip will take place from February 2-4. The mission will focus on security issues, aliyah activities, and meetings with French and Jewish leadership.
If you are interested in participating in either mission, please contact Stu Silberman, 502-238-2723 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.