Je Suis Charlie, Je Suis Juif

This is a guest post by Beth Jacob Rabbi Morris Allen. It originally was sent via email to Beth Jacob congregants and has been reprinted here with permission.

Je_suis_Charlie,_Place_Luxembourg,_Bruxelles,_le_7_Janvier_2015_(21)Our hearts are broken and our souls have been damaged by the events unfolding in France this week. A satirical magazine’s staff was gunned down in cold blood by radicalized terrorists who proclaimed to be acting in the name of Islam. And today gunmen took hostages in a kosher store in Paris, as Jews prepared for Shabbat.

We are those very people. We see each other at Breadsmith on Fridays, at the Kosher Spot or just the grocery store–as we get ready for Shabbat. We laugh at Jon Stewart when he pokes fun at the foibles of who we are and how we sometimes act. We post outrageous comments online and in social media lampooning our Jewish leadership and sometimes even our traditions. And yet, we are learning that we live in a world where those acts can be deadly. Preparing for Shabbat seems to be a reason for some to seek our destruction.

And so we turn to one another and ask what it is that we are to do. And here is what I suggest this Shabbat. First of all, light two additional candles tonight when lighting Shabbat candles. Light these candles to bring more light into our lives, and light these candles for those Jews  who were held hostage and were liberated, and for those whose lives were snuffed out in this horrific act of terror and who will never be lighting candles with their families  again on Shabbat. We will light their candles this week and we will take it upon ourselves to dedicate our Shabbat to them and to all who suffer the ravages of human hatred and violence and terror.


And come to shul tomorrow–for not only do we need to gather as a community, we need to be reminded what the Torah will teach us tomorrow.  We cannot live in a world where folks deny the past, where they forget what has happened before. In the opening lines of Torah, we will hear that, “A new king arose who knew not Joseph.” That verse was the beginning of our Egyptian enslavement. It brought about the death of children and the denial of human dignity. But that verse did not ultimately lead to our defeat, but rather it ultimately led to our victory. A victory where human dignity prevails. We did not let hatred directed towards us defeat us.

The Torah repeatedly turned that initial enslavement around, reminding us some 36 times that the Jewish imperative is the following: “Know the heart of a stranger because you were once a stranger.” We must begin with a realization that our presence in this world, not always desired by others, truly matters. We will not disappear, we will not slink away, we will live with pride and we will live with a vision of a world where one day “God will be One and God’s Name will be One.” Light two additional candles this Shabbat and come to shul tomorrow–to be together, to offer solidarity with Jews around the world, and to be reminded of the meaning of who we are and how we are to be.

(Photo: Valentina Calà)