Moments before this was due to be sent out, disturbing news started to come in from Paris; news of shootings and the taking of hostages who were preparing for Shabbat, buying food from a kosher supermarket. We stand firmly beside our Jewish brothers and sisters in France. Our response to this news must be to continue living our Jewish lives with pride, celebrating Shabbat, attending synagogues, lighting candles and joining together without fear.
Our siddur (prayerbook) includes this prayer for the release of captives:
God our redeemer, who set us free from the slavery of Egypt, we turn to You to release all hostages and captives, all who are enslaved to others. We pray now in particular for those taken hostage in Paris. May You be with them at this time of trial. Give wisdom and strength to those who work for their release and bring about a speedy end to this suffering. May You support the families and friends who can only watch and wait in fear and anxiety. Help us know what we too can do when prayers alone are not enough.
Blessed are You, our Living God, Sovereign of the universe, whose commandments make us holy and who commands us concerning the freeing of captives.
I pray for the friends, family and communities of the twelve victims of the dreadful Charlie Hebdo massacre. The attack on Wednesday morning, when those two fanatics murdered journalists and police in Paris, was a deeply chilling and profound tragedy.
What happened was also the result of fear – those who carried out this atrocity fear free speech and they fear the freedom to offend and be offended. No faith encourages isolation from other beliefs, however difficult they are to digest. That message was echoed immediately by Islamic scholars and Muslim organisations across France, Britain and the wider world. We see the same support for open and challenging debate in The Book of Proverbs, which insists that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. So our views are shaped and sharpened by others, however they may challenge us or particularly,‘davka’ because they do challenge us.
When we avoid engaging with other people or recognising difference, our ideas become blunt, weakened. They become obsolete and disconnected from reality – and rely on claims of absolute truth and divine endorsement. Extremists isolate themselves from debate and when it threatens them, they eventually try to destroy it through violence.
Just as the Paris terrorists went on the run, all extremists are trying to escape the same thing: the power and potency of the free exchange of ideas. That is why this week, before soldiers or politicians or members of the public, they came after journalists. As a collective, the way to defeat extremism is by safeguarding the coexistence of different beliefs and voices in public spaces. As individuals, it is by engaging with the ‘other’ and exposing ourselves to debate, even when it is difficult.
The symbol the world saw on Thursday night was far from one of difference and division. Lights were turned off at the Eiffel Tower, and then mosques, to mark the pain and sorrow that the nation was feeling. When the lights are turned back on tonight, as we light candles in our synagogues and homes on Shabbat, we remember those victims.