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Hanukkah in Paris: a time to celebrate life, express unity, and be proud

The wreath left outside the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Jan. 16, to pay homage to the Jewish victims of the Jan. 9 terrorist attack at that site. Credit: U.S. Department of State.
The wreath left outside the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Jan. 16, to pay homage to the Jewish victims of the Jan. 9 terrorist attack at that site. Credit: U.S. Department of State.

What do Jan. 7 and 9, 2016, mean to you?

Unless these dates have some personal significance to we who live in the relative security of the United States, these dates probably conjure up nothing significant in our minds.

To the people of France and especially those in Paris, however, those dates are burned into their consciences. That is because they mark the one-year anniversaries of two severe attacks that were inspired by radical Islamic ideologies and blatant anti-Semitism. The first was the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris on Jan. 7, 2015, and the siege two days later at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in the Porte de Vincennes neighborhood of eastern Paris. Many were killed, the city was wounded, and the people were expected to live in fear.

Then, on Nov. 13, Paris was given yet another shock, with the highly coordinated Islamist terror attacks throughout the city that killed 130 and wounded 368 others. The more recent news that other attacks were planned that day for Jewish areas, transport networks, and schools has given so many a moment to reflect on the growing sense of intolerance. Needless to say, the attacks have taken an emotional toll on the people of France, the Jewish communities, and by extension, European Jewry as a whole.

Jews in France and in many parts of Europe live in what some are trying to establish as a growing climate of fear. Many have chosen to uproot themselves because of it. According to the Jewish Agency, 2,254 French Jews have made aliyah since the start of 2014, compared to 580 during the same time period the previous year. This represents an extraordinary 289-percent increase, and the numbers continue to climb. This is a sure sign of a emerging sense of despair, danger, and isolation being felt by Jews of Europe.

Our hearts surely go out to those who look to start anew in Israel, the U.S., or even the United Kingdom. Yet many Jewish families have chosen to stay where they are; they are unwilling to yield to the terror and hatred that surround them.

Jan. 7 and Jan. 9 may not ring bells in our heads, but they should. What is required now from us who live in relative safety is a demonstration of solidarity with those who do not, meaning the Jewish communities of France specifically and throughout Europe generally.

That is why Nachum Segal, host of the Nachum Segal Network’s (NSN) popular “JM in the AM” radio show, should be applauded for what he is about to do. In the heart of Paris, on the evening of Dec. 9, Segal will host an international concert, “Let There Be Light: The Concert of Jewish Unity.”

In the works for some time now, the date was not chosen lightly (no pun intended). It comes about a week after the children of the Jewish shoppers murdered in the Hyper Cacher attack end their 12-month-long recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish for their parents.

Above all, however, the evening of Dec. 9 marks the fourth night of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. The story of the Maccabees is well-known: At a time when the Jewish people were being persecuted because they were Jewish, one family, the Hasmoneans, stood up against the awesome power of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his Hellenized Assyrian army. Through the stubborn tenacity of the Hasmoneans, the Jewish people not only survived, but thrived.

That same tenacity is today being shown by the majority of Jews of France and Europe. “Let There Be Light: The Concert of Jewish Unity” is not meant to mourn death, but to celebrate the lives of the victims, and to give courage and support to the Jews who stand as defiantly today against unbridled hatred as did Matthias and his sons “in those days at this time,” in the words of a Hanukkah prayer.

Segal’s concert is intended as a celebration of Parisian life, and as a demonstration of Jewish unity that proclaims that we can be knocked down but we can never be defeated.

The resilience of French Jewry today undoubtedly has its roots in the Nazi invasion of France and the Vichy government of Marshal Philippe Pétain that flowed from it. Many of their parents and grandparents of today’s French Jewish community not only survived the Nazi era—they chose to stay in France and rebuild their lives. It is this resilience that underpins “Let There Be Light: The Concert of Jewish Unity.”

It will be an event to be remembered, with some well-known names in Jewish music performing, such as Yehoram Gaon, Ohad Moskowitz, Itzik Dadya, Amir Haddad, Ouzia Tzadok, and Avi Miller. Other celebrities will be attending, and leaders of the French and Jewish communities will deliver messages of hope and support. There will be singing, dancing, and festivities, to mark Hanukkah and the Hasmonean spirit that still lives. Among those notable leaders likely to attend are Yeshiva University President Richard Joel, New York State Assemblyman Phil Goldfedder, Chairman of Cross River Bank in NJ Gilles Gade, and others. Naftali Bennett, leader of Israel’s Jewish Home party, will be delivering a video message to the attendees.

Just as a single jar of oil kept the Eternal Flame of the Jewish Temple lit for an extra seven days as new oil was prepared, the “light” emanating from this concert is likely to reverberate well beyond the venue, bringing cheer and hope in a place where the perpetrators of these vicious crimes sought to spread despair and hopelessness.

Juda Engelmayer is a senior vice president at 5W Public Relations. He works on and writes about topics related to media, crisis public relations, and corporate branding, and is involved in matters that relate to the Jewish community and Israel. Juda and his family live in Teaneck, N.J  

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