Is it time to go home yet?
In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher murderous terrorist attacks just a week ago, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu seized the opportunity during the massive unity rally that followed to invite (actually, to call upon) the Jews of France, 500,000 strong, to return home to Israel. With the fresh images of four Jewish bodies returning to Israel to be buried and armed guards filling the entryways to their children’s schools, along with the collective memory they carry of the events that took place 75 years ago, the Jews of France have good reason to consider flight as their best option. I have heard many say that the handwriting is on the wall, that the times are looking like the 1930’s, that we made the mistake of staying once before and look what it cost us — and I can’t say that I completely disagree. Every individual and family must decide what is best for them.
But this is not 1938. And we are a more powerful international community of Jews than ever before. And we have Israel waiting with open arms. And we have allies, Christians and even Muslims among them. And French President Francois Hollande certainly understands the national and international implications of a mass Jewish exodus. Aside from the “brain drain” that would result, should France lose its Western soul in the battle between radical Islam and modernity, other countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden are likely to follow soon thereafter. And let’s not forget that France is a nuclear power and a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. France is already experiencing the annual emigration of thousands of Jews to Israel in recent years. Should the largest European Jewish community be decimated of its own free will, there is little doubt that the other Jewish communities of Europe will suffer a similar fate.
Are we ready for a new demographic reality, where all Jews live in Israel, the United States and Canada? On the one hand, I say why not. On the other hand, the French Jews attending Prime Minister Netanyahu’s appearance at the Great Synagogue followed his oration with an emotional singing of Hatikvah, and concluded with an equally stirring and heartfelt rendition of La Marseillaise. We must also ask ourselves what we would sacrifice and how long we would fight were our American values and freedoms suddenly challenged. And we must also ask ourselves how our mission in the world is fulfilled as Jews if we are only a light unto those who share our values; if we become an insular and insulated community; if we are only for ourselves. That is not, in my opinion, how we were meant to be a blessing.
Israel is our home and, thank God, our haven. But the Jewish experiment was meant to be shared with the rest of the world. And that means fighting and sacrificing for a certain way of life for ourselves and for those who have elected to adopt our values. I fight back by supporting the education of our local community through Rockland’s Holocaust Museum and Study Center; I fight back by using social media to share balanced and accurate reporting; I fight back by participating in AIPAC’s policy conference and lobbying efforts (March 1-3) to make sure that the United States will stand as a partner with Israel in the international arena; I fight back by voting for MERCAZ USA in the World Zionist Congress elections (ongoing) to promote a more progressive social agenda and more pluralistic religious agenda in Israel; I fight back by supporting organizations like the American Jewish Committee to advocate globally for Israel and the world’s Jewish communities; I fight back by leading trips to Israel (informational meeting Wednesday night for our December 2015 trip) so others can feel empowered by the greatest feelings of belonging, strength and hope.
I pray that, should the time come (God forbid) when it is time to go home, I will know it. Until then, I will proudly defend my right to be a Jew right here.
Rabbi Craig Scheff