The Jews in France are anxious! They are unsure of their future in the country. Many have left for places like Israel, England, Canada, and the United States. Others are contemplating. The majority will stay. But, the Jewish community in France is slowly shrinking. Anti-Semitism is all around and the Jewish community is scared. And recent events continue to exasperate the feelings in the community. Should they stay or should they go?
I wrote the above in my Marc’s Remarks in January 2015 following a solidarity mission to Paris. You may recall that on January 9, 2015, an Islamist killed four Jews in the Porte de Vincennes branch of Hyper Cacher market in eastern Paris. Two days before the Hyper Cacher attack, Islamists killed 12 people at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, whose editors and artists frequently publish caricatures mocking Islam and other faiths.
Earlier this week, on the third anniversary of the Hyper Cacher attack, two kosher shops were damaged in a fire near Paris. The fire at the Promo Stock store in suburban Creteil and at the local branch of the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket comes two weeks after swastikas were painted on both.
No one was hurt in the fire, which caused severe damage to the stores. Police did not say whether the fire was the result of arson, although the Associated Press cited the regional prosecutor’s office saying they were treating the fire as a criminal act because the store’s protective shutters had been forced open.
In a separate incident, on Tuesday night, Rabbi Raziel Shevach (z”l), was killed in a West Bank terror attack. The 35-year-old father of six was a rabbi in a yeshiva and a mohel. Shevach was shot dead Tuesday while driving down a highway near his home outside Nablus. Israeli security forces are searching for the perpetrators.
As written in Tablet, Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh was elected student body president of UCLA. A descendant of Iranian Jews, she is one of a rising generation of young Jewish leaders on American campuses. But this Monday, when she returned to her office at the university following winter break, she was greeted with a nasty reminder -- her mezuzah had been torn down.
The mezuzah has special resonance to Mokhtarzadeh in light of her family’s history of persecution:
“I grew up hearing stories about my grandparents’ childhoods in Iran where they were forced to put their mezuzahs on the inside of their doorposts, rather than the outside. What better way to honor the sacrifices and experiences of my grandparents and parents than to proudly express my Jewish identity in a way they never could. Imagine my utter disappointment to see that the reality they feared most had happened in our very own Kerckhoff Hall. This is the second time in two years that a mezuzah has been stolen from the doorpost of the Office of the President. The same incident took place under the tenure of 2016-2017 President Danny Siegel.”
“In my time as USAC President and in my time as a Bruin I have not once succumbed to the pressure to hide my Jewish identity—and I never will. I hope none of us ever will. To those who sought to tell me that my identity was not welcomed…you and your actions do not represent this community, which has no tolerance for your intolerance.”
In each of these instances, Mokhtarzadeh’s words resonate clearly -- “The best way to combat hate speech and hateful acts is to counter them with brave speech and brave acts.”
I do not want this week’s message to be a downer. On a more personal note with little Jewish connection, two wonderful childhood memories (with Orlando connections where I am from) came to light for me this past week. First, January 7th marked the 90th anniversary of the first game ever played by the Harlem Globetrotters. Founded (and coached) in 1926 by Abe Saperstein, the Globetrotters have entertained more than 144 million fans in 122 countries and territories worldwide.
I have seen the Globetrotters play on multiple occasions and have met famed Globetrotter and star dribbler, Curly Neal, numerous times. He lived in the neighborhood next to mine and was so recognizable with his bald head and bright smile. He was instrumental in helping Orlando get an NBA team in 1989.
On another note, I want to mark the passing of Astronaut John Young. A former fighter pilot, Young started his career with NASA in 1962. His first space venture came in March 1965 aboard the Gemini 3 with fellow astronaut Gus Grissom. He went to the moon in May 1969 aboard Apollo 10 and walked on it in April 1972 with Apollo 16. And, in 1983, he commanded the Space Shuttle Columbia.
He was born in San Francisco, but at 18 months of age moved with his family to Cartersville, Georgia (I have a great Federation story about that town) and then to Orlando where he attended grade school and graduated high school. He was a true local hero and would come and speak at my school.
On Monday, we will observe the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Every year, PJ Library, PJ partner organizations, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland sponsor a day of service for preschoolers and their families. The program will be held at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center from 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. where children will make placemats for Meals on Wheels and fleece blankets for the homeless families staying in Congregation Beth Israel’s Mitzvah House family shelter. We also ask that you bring gloves and socks to donate to the homeless, as well as outgrown PJ Library books to swap with other families. Sign up today by contacting Rachel Nelson at 503-892-7415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, January 21 we will have our mikvah grand opening. If interested in attending or having a tour, please RSVP here.