My Friend, Yoav

My friend Yoav, 21 years old, was a boy who cared about justice. He was the victim of a cruel and arbitrary injustice. He was a courageous boy who was killed by a coward. Filled with a love for life, he was attacked by a man with a death wish. Pious and sincere in his religion, he was shot by a man who was a despicable caricature of religious devotion.

It was as if a battle of the opposites had taken place, and everything I consider to be good had lost. There is no lesson to be drawn from this.

Yoav's assassination remains incomprehensible, inexplicable, and unthinkable. It is the same for the other three men killed in that grocery, all of them a target because of their supposed Jewish origin.

My sorrow is nothing compared to that of Yoav's parents, his brothers and sisters. I send them all my love and my support.

Avishay, you are my brother and I am there for you. Betsalel, I have promised you guitar lessons; we will begin as soon as you get back to Tunis. Your family is dignified and pious. It is protected by an infallible faith (emunah in Hebrew), which inspires me, and which, I know, will help you find the strength to get through this infinite pain. I also wish Mister Batou Hattab to never lose the strength that has always animated him as a rabbi of the Jewish community in Tunis and as a school principal. The school at which he teaches, both Jewish and French, stands for the strong bond that has united the Jews of the Mediterranean to France, its language and its values.
Yoav, a Tunisian citizen who did not have French citizenship and who had encountered the same obstacles as others from Maghreb in obtaining a visa, was meant to die in France, because France stands for an ideal. A battered ideal for certain; an ideal sometimes held in contempt; nevertheless, still an ideal.

My friend Yoav Hattab had a wonderful voice. It was the first thing that touched me about him: his voice, slightly broken. In another world, he could have become an Arab Idol star, since he adored Arab music. I remember one night when we were coming back from a party and we were quite drunk, we started to sing the Arabic song "Akdeb alik," in the style of Egyptian singer Farid al-Atrach. I was stunned to see that he knew all the lyrics by heart.

In our world, he could have become a cantor (hazzan), wonderfully interpreting the Torah's cantillation techniques according to Tunisian traditions. When he was conducting a prayer, he often borrowed a few spiritual Tunisian songs while slowing down their rhythm, which showed the bond between his Jewish ethos, the Tunisian one and his cultural environment.

For me, a French Jew of Tunisian origin in love with the Arab language, living among Jews and Arabs, Yoav was like honey. His native language was an Arabic dialect, Judeo-Arabic, both similar and different from that of his Muslim fellow countrymen. He taught me some rudiments and helped me understand, without even knowing it, that this Jewish-Arab dialect was a language of emotion, a language for family and laughter. An intimate language. This language is now the object of my academic research in linguistics. The career I hope to have will always remind me of him.

Yoav was 21. Yet, he looked older: always elegantly dressed, like a Sephardic model. But he had the tenderness and candor of a child. Our discussions were mostly about bachelors' interests and I was, in spite of myself, the elder advisor. He did not hesitate to turn to me for advice, as if he were my younger brother. I think he would have married young and that he would have been a devoted and caring father.

Many of my friends expressed their sorrow, even if they had met him only once. Yoav had an immediate positive impact due to his sense of joy and his happiness. Everybody just loved him.

This is the image I want to remember of him. This image and his last act, that of a brave and courageous man who risked his life while trying to save others. A real man!

For me, "I am Yoav" -- "#jesuisyoav"-- is not just a slogan chosen among a myriad of temporary, cause-related tags. If "I am Yoav," it is mostly because it could also have been me in that grocery. Me, or any other person who frequents kosher shops. This is because Jews were the target, just because they were Jews.

These linked attackers unleashed violence on Jews, policemen, and cartoonists. What is the link between these categories? What do they stand for? What do they have in common? I think that the attackers in Paris or Toulouse aimed at something universal, something that encourages people to be themselves, to be individuals.

Targeting the police, it is attacking public authority and republican order, two universally applicable concepts; two concepts meant to implement a social framework where individuals may evolve freely, according to their own inclinations.

Targeting the cartoonists was meant to deny the notion that freedom of expression, universal, could go as far as blasphemy. Resulting from an obsession for control, it is the desire to impose a singular worldview on an entire society.

Targeting Jews meant attacking a community whose culture has one goal: bringing together the universal and the particular. Jewish values aspire to universality. But only by distinguishing ourselves can we embody these values, which makes it an impossible challenge. It is a painful contradiction for most of us. An unbearable challenge for the attackers, whose ideology demands absolute conformity.

Yoav was a very religious Jew who was also a Tunisian and a patriot. Though he considered himself a Tunisian, he was also very well-established in France, where he also felt at home. He spoke French without an accent -- although I think that some Maghrebian phrases may have been the cause of certain linguistic inaccuracies. He could also speak Hebrew fluently, using an Israeli accent. Yoav was a polyglot. At home everywhere, and a Jew wherever he went. He was unique and he was universal. This is the ideal -- to be yourself while being open to others' differences -- that the attackers tried in vain to make disappear. This is also the ideal on which the French Republic was built.

As 19th-century rabbi Elijah Benamozegh said, "In Judaism, universality is the goal and particularity is the means." This is what Yoav embodied.

Rest in peace ya sa'abi.

ברוך דין האמת, Blessed is the True Judge.

This post originally appeared on HuffPost Maghreb and was translated into English.