Israel Center

Unusual cold winds blow over our Israeli skies, reminding us what real winter really looks like in other countries, France for example. Beautiful Paris, the city of lights is known for its cold white winter setting, where alongside fluffy snowflakes the Eiffel Tower stands tall and bright, symbolizing freedom and democracy. But this January, other kinds of winds are blowing in Paris. Threatening ice-cold winds, challenge Paris’s artistic romantic atmosphere. These evil winds ruffled two black flags of mourning flying over the wall of the city council reading: “We are all Charlie Hebdo”.

Over three million people marched together on Sunday to send a clear and united message to terror — not here not anywhere, not under our free world’s watch.

Scores of leaders from across the world led this solidarity march, expressing their grief, condemning violence, oppression and cruelty.

Tens of millions across the world followed this march through their screens and with their hearts. And tens of thousands in cities around the world, including Madrid, Beirut, New York, Ramallah, Jerusalem and Sydney actively participated in local gatherings and rallies to pay respect for the victims of the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices, and the four killed in the terror attack on a Paris kosher supermarket: Yoav Hattab, 21, Yohan Cohen, 20, Philippe Braham, 54, and Francois-Michel Saada, 64. All were murdered last Friday just for being Jewish.

Yoav, Yohan, Philippe and Francois Michel, the four victims of the vicious terror attack against life, against tolerance and against humanity, were laid to rest in Israel this past Tuesday.

From the vantage of a gloomy darkened Eiffel Tower, our small, scarred Israel seems so bright, safe and hopeful. Out of the half a million Jews living in France — Europe’s largest Jewish community— almost 7,000 moved to Israel in the past year, many because of rising anti-Semitism.

Will last week’s deadly terror attack lead to more Jews leaving France and moving to Israel? Does this wave of forced immigration coincide with the revamped Israel engagement for which we advocate? Do we want Israel engagement today to be based on fleeing danger or do we preach about moving or visiting here, and having an ongoing relationship with Israel because of this country’s relevancy, beauty, contemporary feel and our historical, cultural and traditional ties? Is calling for the Jewish citizens of France to leave the French Republic and to move to Israel risking Israel’s political relationship with France and is this the wisest move at this time?

On the other hand, do we have the luxury during times of crises to debate and question people’s right to ask that Israel fulfill the safe haven promise on which they depend? Are those immigrating to Israel as a result of persecution lesser Zionists than those moving to Israel for other reasons?

My daughter Roni is an IDF (Israel Defense Force) commander working with soldiers, many of them Lone Soldiers from across the Jewish world, including countries such as Morocco, Holland, China and India. Most of the soldiers she works with came from France to voluntarily join the Israeli army. One of them is 24-year-old Ariel.

Ariel left his parents and eight siblings in France and moved to Israel a year ago because Israel is the place he wants to call home. Ariel, a college graduate, is much older than all other soldiers in his unit and therefore not only physically more challenged, but socially as well. Because he is older, he is required to serve for only six months, but Ariel volunteered to serve the full duration as if he was 18.

With Ariel serves 20-year-old Avi from France too. Avi moved to Israel with his fiancé, and the two volunteered to serve in the Israeli army.

Yesterday, Avi, Ariel and others attended their first official military ceremony where they swore allegiance to the Israeli army. (As if voluntarily moving to Israel on one’s own, and leaving a family behind, isn’t a declaration of loyalty!) Every Israeli soldier goes through this ceremony with great excitement. Families are not just welcome to participate but also to take a day off in order to attend, print banners and T-shirts and turn this ceremony into a family gathering and an expression of pride in their own soldier, and in Israel’s army as well.

At yesterday’s ceremony there were hardly any parents or families attending, as most soldiers are Lone Soldiers. Their parents follow their sons and daughters army training and achievements from afar.

Today, as I was driving back home from our Jerusalem JCC Israel Center, I passed black JE SUIS CHARLIE flags hanging across Israel’s capital, expressing Israel’s solidarity with the French people.

At the funeral for Yoav, Yohan, Philippe and Francois-Michel in Jerusalem, Israel’s president, prime minister and many other delegates along with tens of thousands Israelis, expressed Jewish peoplehood, unity and a sense of family. As part of her eulogy Valerie, Philippe’s widow said: “I’m crying today, knowing you are all crying with me, and for that I’m grateful”

Paris, New York, Brussel, Jerusalem or Montreal. Jews are entitled to flourish, lead great and successful Jewish lives, and strive as Jews and as human beings wherever they choose to live. And when they desire, to move to or just visit Israel. Not because they are forced to flee, but because Israel has so much to offer to those choosing to call it home on a daily basis. And, of course, Jews have always called Israel home and will continue to do so, whether or not they choose to live here. This is the beauty of our homeland, it’s ours, all of us, and it’s home, literally or figuratively.

May the victims of Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher terror attacks rest in peace; and may we share Jewish unity in peaceful days.

Leah Garber, Vice President, JCC Israel Center
leah@jcca.org