(December 10, 2015 / JNS)
It is almost hard to believe that it has been just a year since the horrific events of Paris in January of 2015.
The painful memories of the attack at the Charlie Hebdomagazine, followed by the murderous strike on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket, persist when we are forced to contend with all that has happened since.
It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the times we live in are more tumultuous and uncertain than any that we have seen since the end of World War II. Rarely does a day go by where another innocent person doesn’t lose his or her life to the madness that is modern-day terrorism.
So as we gathered here in Paris this week for “Let There Be Light: A Concert of Jewish Unity”—a Hanukkah event designed to unite the Jewish world—I would argue that never before has the concept of Jewish unity been more important.
It is well-known that throughout our history, the Jewish people have been the victims of hatred, discrimination, persecution, and genocide in degrees far greater than any other group. While sadly there is no easy or comprehensive response to ensure our complete safety against those threats, it is also apparent that the best-possible response that we can present in the face of terror is to stand united.
As damaging as our enemies have been to the wellbeing of the Jewish people, we must also admit that all too often our failure to unite has been the very recipe for our undoing.
If one is to look at the Jewish world today, there is no disputing that we are a world divided. We are divided among political and cultural lines and we are certainly divided along religious lines.
While this diversity can often be described as a positive, when our various factions fail to live and work alongside one another, we are largely failing to embrace the dictum which should define Jewry as one people with one heart.
Though we all can trace our roots back to Sinai, since that time those roots seem to have grown further and further from the source. We are a people of sects, streams, differing ideologies, and countless forms of practice and dress. The old joke of “two Jews, three opinions” is not just a humorous take on our social practices—it is a truism that defines who we are as a people.
With all these lines having been drawn within our community, one could naturally become pessimistic over the prospects for Jewish unity.
But I am by no means pessimistic.
I know that when we are confronted by threats, and when one Jew is at risk, those differences must fade away and the Jewish ideal of unity will rise above all.
In recent years, we have seen this on numerous occasions.
Perhaps most telling were the events of the summer of 2014, when the kidnapping of the three Israeli boys by Hamas caused Jews of all backgrounds to come together in prayer and hope for their safe return. Sadly, we know that those prayers did not bear the result we hoped for, but the boys’ deaths did allow that spirit of unity to persist, and in many ways that spirit continues to inspire our community until this day.
Since that time, even while there have been highs and lows, the reality is that our world—the greater world and the Jewish world—remains entrenched in a very dangerous and uncertain period. Islamic terror continues to place Jews and Jewish institutions at the top of its target list. Painfully, the people of Israel are living in a time where the streets of our beloved nation’s cities are being struck almost daily by attacks, and where physical security in all too many places is no longer a certainty. This sense of unease by no means is contained to Israel’s borders. We have seen hateful attacks being perpetrated against Jews on almost every continent, and anti-Semitism is as much a thing of the present as one of the past.
Unity, therefore, is imperative to remind each and every Jew that they are not alone. The Jew on the streets of Paris must know that he or she is as important as their co-religionist walking the pathways of Jerusalem, Sydney, Brooklyn, London, Moscow, Tehran—or anywhere.
Perhaps it is deeply unfortunate that it takes tragedy to remind ourselves to be united. Many ask why we need our enemies to force us into finding our common bonds. I would agree that this is an important question, but the stakes are far too high to dwell on it for more than a moment. Rather, we must recognize the threats that we are facing as well as the opportunity that is being presented to us
If we are truly united, and if we spread that message of unity to the world, no terrorist nor dictator will ever be able to destroy us.
We owe it to the victims of past terror attacks to recognize and embrace this reality.
Nachum Segal is the president of the Nachum Segal Network broadcaster, host of the “JM in the AM” radio show, and the initiator of this week’s “Let There Be Light: A Concert of Jewish Unity” in Paris.