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Rabbi Steven Katz on the events in Paris

This was sent to members of Hendon Reform Synagogue following the attacks in Paris.

I am writing this article on Sunday afternoon, multi tasking, coffee and biscuit in one hand, pen in another, Sunday Times open and on my lap, eyes glued to the TV screen as my beloved Arsenal “do battle” (the phrase is carefully chosen) with Stoke City.  My head, however, is grappling with the raft of articles andanalysis surrounding the tragic shootings and hostage takings in Paris.

We opened our Shabbat morning service with the prayer to be recited in times of war that is included in our Reform siddur. Why? First, the killings in Paris constituted yet another declaration of war by radical Islamism on western civilisation, the Judeo–Christian ethic, Europe and the Jewish people.  Second, we needed to acknowledge, at the start of the service, that all those gathered in shul together with all right thinking people around the world were filled with shock, horror and grief at the brutal loss of life inflicted on innocent French civilians.

How should Jews in particular respond?  First by expressing our heartfelt sympathy to the families of the bereaved, Christian, Muslim and Jewish and our heartfelt wishes for a complete healing to those who suffered the trauma of being taken hostage.  Second, rallies of unity, solidarity and protest took place across France. In France, Place de la République is the normal gathering point for shows of national unity. In London, Trafalgar Square. For Jews, the synagogue is the natural address for such expression.  I think thatespecially parents of teenagers needed to come to shul on Shabbat with their children. I remember Shabbat services in our shul always attracted additional numbers during times when Israel was confronted with terrorist and suicide attacks – strength was to be found among our own, strength, security in the reassurance and tradition of prayer,  enhanced by the unity and solidarity of a minyan.

Third, the attack on the kosher supermarket emphasised the vulnerability of Jews everywhere.  Synagogues are the only houses of worship that require regular security personnel and only Jewish schools share the same need.  CST (The Community Security Trust) does an admirable role in seeking to protect us.   Perhaps consider CST when you disburse personal tsedaka to Jewish causes and if you are of the right age, consider making contact with the CST to volunteer your time.

Fourth, as Jews we must never permit others to define us through the words and actions of anti-Semites, let us remind ourselves that Judaism is a religion of social justice, tsedaka and joy and consequently let us increase our observance of Judaism in the home and find room in our lives for the synagogue in order to remind ourselves and our children that as Jews in the UK, we are part of a whole, the whole Jewish People, k’lal Yisrael, embracing each others fears and hopes, pains and joy as our own.

What of the future?  The Paris outrages took place in the same week in which figures showed that more people visited Auschwitz in 2014, 1 million, than in any previous year, more people visited Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, 1.23 million than in any previous year, so confirming George Santayana’s observation that ‘Those who do not learn from their mistakes are condemned to repeat them.’  We have not yet learned the danger of indifference to prejudice.  Professor Robert Wistrich has written extensively on anti-Semitism, its roots and its contemporary manifestations.  His tome, ‘A Lethal Obsession’ comprises more than 1000 pages including a chapter entitled ‘Towards the Muslim Apocalypse’.  Wistrich claims that France is a lost cause.  France’s Chief Rabbi, Haim Korsia disagrees, ‘There is always a cure.  If you think there is no solution you are not Jewish’.

I would suggest that part of the solution lies in the Muslim world and it’s reassuring that King Abdullah of Jordan and President el-Sisi of Egypt and many Muslim religious leaders have condemned the murderous attacks perpetrated in Paris.The political leaders of the world including Russia and China need a unified global strategy including comprehensive, effective sanctions against those who offer economic, military, political or ideological support to the promoters and practitioners of terrorism.

In conclusion, with the words of our siddur ‘At this time of conflict, we turn to you God……. Be with your children of all nations and religions and give them strength and courage in this time of uncertainty and fear.’

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