Nous Sommes JAFI
Our collective eyes have been on France for some time. Granted that before this week, we looked to the land of liberte and egalite with dismay over the anti-semitism which is growing exponentially within France's borders. This week, we watched in horror as freedom of expression was challenged as the ugly face of Islamic extremism reared its head.
Regardless of one's views of the French government's voting record vis-à-vis Israel in the United Nations, I know that we all deplore the horrific acts of terrorism that took innocent lives in Paris. Nonetheless, the attack at Charlie Hebdo, though not targeted directly at the Jewish Community, raises the stakes for our Jewish brothers and sisters in the French Republic. Tumult of any kind is not a friend to that Jewish community, particularly any that reminds folks of Islamic agitation. As I sit at the computer completing this piece, the news is reporting terrorist violence and a hostage situation at a kosher supermarket near the Porte de Vincennes.
2014 saw a tremendous increase in the number of French Jews moving to Israel. In the past 12 months, 7,000 Jews made aliyah from France and are now calling Israel their home - twice as many as in 2013. Recently, I spoke to one of these latest Israelis. Martine is a 31 year old widowed single mom who moved in October into my cousin's apartment building in Jerusalem's Abu Tor neighborhood. My cousin connected me with Martine because she wanted to thank those who helped The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) relocate her and her daughter. "I was a secular Jew in France and felt little connection to Jewish life. Maybe that was my choice. Who knows? But when I needed my Jewish community to help me and give my daughter a future, the Jewish Agency was ready and waiting for us. There are no words to express the gratitude and love in my heart."
It would not surprise me in the least if the trend of French immigration to Israel continues to grow in the wake of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo. As people through France and throughout the world hold up signs saying "Nous Sommes Charlie Hebdo" (We are Charlie Hebdo), we should proudly hold up signs saying "Nous Sommes JAFI (We are JAFI") Because thanks to your generosity through Federation, Martine, her daughter, and so many more like them, are spending this Shabbat in their permanent home, safe from anti-semitism.
James A. Cohen