By Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism
The most everyday actions in one place can assume unimaginable symbolism in another.
Arriving in Paris on Saturday evening, I reached into my pocket and took out a ticket, a crumpled map of the city and a piece of jewellery; my Magen David.
I had never once questioned the safety of wearing that necklace before. I never expected that Paris would need the security and steely resilience I have only witnessed in Jerusalem. Resolving to wear my Magen David was the kind of small act of defiance Jews have replicated across France.
Their coping mechanism is motored by defence, defiance and delight.
Defence: My rabbinic colleague, Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, explained that adults in her community were dismayed that they had no answers to their children’s’ question: “why us?”, “why aren’t we safe?” There are no answers to these long-term questions of Jewish insecurity and isolation.
With tens of thousands of police guarding synagogues and schools, the only immediate recourse is defending Jewish life.
Defiance: I visited a synagogue two minutes from the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Members heard shots fired on Wednesday and, as they echoed through the city, terror struck even closer to home with the murder of four Jews shopping for Shabbat. On Sunday, the synagogue was packed for a children’s service. Together, the community joyfully sang Hineh Ma Tov – how good and pleasant it is to dwell together in unity! Elsewhere, Jews refused to close shops and shuls. They represented Jewish defiance in the face of tragedy. For others, wearing a Magen David like mine is another such sign.
Delight: In Torah, we read: “I am giving you a choice. You can choose life and success or death and disaster.” This choice has been presented to French Jews time and again. Though the purpose of terror is to instil paralysing fear, each time they are challenged French Jews choose life. They continue delighting in the richness of Jewish life.
Jewish spirit means choosing life.
In France or in Israel – having the choice is vital. At Place de la Republique, people held placards with the slogan “Je suis Juif”, “I am Jewish”.
This week, those words meant defending and delighting in Jewish life – and defying those who attempt to eradicate it.