This Thought for the Day was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 19 February 2015.
A terrorist attacks freedom in Copenhagen, first murdering someone at a debate on free speech and then shooting a volunteer security guard protecting a celebration in a synagogue. It’s distressing and deeply sad.
Some speculate that the tide has now turned. They point to Paris and last week’s events in Copenhagen and see a significant, worrying increase in anti-Semitism.
With these appalling events, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But the British Jewish historian, David Cesarani, is much more positive. He says the numbers may reflect an increase but it’s nothing like a tidal wave of anti-Semitism. What we’re actually grappling with is the intended effect of terrorism, which is the replacement of the feeling of security with fear and fragility.
The Torah describes how God created the world through acts of separation: separating day from night; light from darkness and the waters from dry land. Terrorism tries to dissolve the divide between storm and serenity, order and chaos. It plays on our inner sense of darkness and tries to overwhelm our inner light. Our task is to separate between light and fright. Between fear and reality.
After this weekend’s tragic events, I turned for a reality check to my colleagues in the Jewish Community Security Trust, who work with the Police to protect British Jews. They agree with the views of David Cesarani and they helped restore in me a healthy sense of perspective and calmed my fears.
They said: “These are hard times and many people are scared – but the last thing we should do is to exaggerate these fears or stop being involved in public Jewish life. Resilience is in our DNA.”
In Paris and Copenhagen, terrorists did not only attack Jews. They have a long list of enemies, including journalists, cartoonists, filmmakers and members of other religions, including Muslims and Christians and pretty much anyone or any event that represents difference.
How we respond to that hatred is crucial. Jews are locked in debate about our future in Europe. There have been some Jewish voices strongly encouraging us to leave our treasured island, Britain and also mainland Europe for Israel. But most Jews reject this call.
Jews have lived in the Diaspora for over two thousand years. We’re a civilization that fuses religious and national identities. It’s this mixture of religion, peoplehood and history that I believe makes Jews an energetic and essential part of Europe – both for us and for our neighbours. Israel is at the heart of our heritage but Jews in Europe are committed to continuing our vibrant existence here.