Jews, Give France a Chance!

The events last week were a vicious confirmation of what Jews in France have felt for the last 15 years. France is an increasingly dangerous place for Jews to live.

Jews are targeted in synagogue. Jews are attacked on the street. It is no surprise that 500 people showed up for a recent session on the process for immigrating to Israel.

Yet, sometimes good can emerge out of evil. Sometimes alarm bells are truly heard. Not only France, but all of Europe, is at a crossroads.

Will its people give in to fear with a backlash and turn to ultra-nationalist policies? Or will they respond vigilantly to terror and speak out for its country's Jewish community?

As the New York Times just reported, the French President seems to have chosen the latter. He has taken good first steps in words and deeds. Others need to follow. Why is this important?

1. Jews are miner's canary of Europe: The miner's canary is the bird brought with miners to test the toxicity of gases in the mine. If the canary died, the miners would avoid that particular area.

Jews have served in that role throughout European history. If they were threatened, others were as well. Consider the history of the Second World War.

The Nazis began by targeting Jews. Dozens of other groups followed. The same can be said of journalists. The future of a multicultural and free Europe depends on how the government responds to these particular victims of terror.

2. The time is short: When 7000 rioters surrounded two Paris synagogues six months ago, trapping hundreds inside for fear of their lives, I wrote that the rioters threatened not only Jews. They threatened all of France. These latest events leave no room for doubt. If the leaders France do not show they understand the existential anxiety of the Jewish community, a trickle of departing Jews will become a mass exodus.

3. The moral reputation of Europe is on the line: The former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Jonathan Sacks, has written, "Jews and Europe go back a long way. The experience of Jews in Europe has added several words to the human vocabulary - words like expulsion, public disputation, forced conversion, inquisition, auto-da-fé, blood libel, ghetto and pogrom."

As Sacks later pointed out, much has improved over the last fifty years. In spite of the recent horror, antisemitic acts have markedly diminished as churches stopped blaming Jews for the death of Jesus, and the horrors of the Holocaust have become part of the European consciousness.

Even so, some point to the recent acts of terror and say Europe is not safe for Jews. They encourage immigration to Israel sooner rather than later.

I sympathize with this view. I am an unabashed Zionist with many family members in Israel.

Yet, I believe Judaism and the world benefits from the a global Jewish community. Judaism is not strictly a nationality. It is a religion, a philosophy, a moral voice for humanity.

There is a reason over a million people visit the Anne Frank House very year. There is a reason France's most celebrated public intellectual, Bernard Henri Levy, is a proud Jew. A strong and safe Jewish community enriches the cultural life of every nation. The loss of France's Jewish community--the largest in Europe--would be a lost for us all.
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