Many of us, until last week, probably had no idea how to say “I am Jewish” in French. We probably also had no reason to say “I am Charlie” either. Since the terrible events in Paris ensued, we all felt these French phrases. Last week, and throughout history, we have seen tyrants and terrorists declare how and who we should be. The attacks last week in Paris reminded us that we should never take for granted the right to say, “I am [fill in the blank].”
I grew up in a country in which I was so blessed to be able to have my religious needs protected and defended. I didn’t walk around in fear for my life, and I didn’t have to hide who I was. I was fortunate to be able to become a learned Jew in a non-Jewish country. I made Aliyah by choice and not by coercion or force. Every time I fly to the United States, I look up at the American flag in the airport, and as I go through customs I hand my American passport to the clerk with pride and gratitude. I know how fortunate we are that we are able to voice our concerns to our government and not be charged with dissent and sentenced to death. In America I could say without fear that Je suis Juif.
I once traveled to England and went to a shul for Shabbat. Other than the fact that we knew it was a Jewish building, the untrained eye would not have been able to discern this. We inquired about the structure’s concealment and we were told that it is unsafe for Jewish institutions to stand out. At 16, this seemed strange to me and it still does. The attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris reminded us that the Europe that many of our grandparents left behind, and the Europe upon which so much Jewish blood was spilled for centuries, has still not truly gotten over its anti-Semitism.
The necessity to camouflage reminds us that even today, it is still risky to say Je Suis Juif.
Every day, I thank G-d that I have the incredible privilege to live in Israel. Many times I truly cannot believe that I live in this ancient country and have a completely modern life (sans a drivers license—that’s for a different article). While in America I knew that I was guaranteed the right to pray to the G-d I chose, I still lived there as a guest would in his gracious host’s home: grateful but with the knowledge that whatever I do, I must ask permission first. And also, a guest is not a permanent resident. In Israel, I am the host and I share this country with so many. Enlightened Europe, the hypocritical United Nations, and the hostile Arab should learn from a tiny Middle Eastern country in the most dangerous part of the world that lets everyone say Je suis Whoever.
The sickening thing about Islamic extremism is that it is often enabled by the very countries that afford them freedom of religion, expression etc. Either you disdain Western values or you embrace them. You cannot use freedom to undermine someone else’s right to live. Someone else’s right to say Je suis Me.
I live in the most desired city in the world. A city that, at sunset, is painted gold. I go to a school that has a designated prayer room for Muslims, right next to a Jewish one. I live in a country that takes in refugees, even those that aren’t Jewish. I only wish that the world could look to Israel as a place to praise and not to constantly criticize. They would hear the languages and prayers of people saying, proudly, Je suis Me.
(Photo: Len Radin)