For me, the word “pogrom” evokes black and white images of Cossacks attacking Jews living in the shtetl, scenes from movies like “Fiddler on the Roof,” back in the times of olde when Jews were unequal before the law.
Well, pogroms have happened in France several times throughout the past couple of weeks, so maybe they’re not as antiquated as I thought.
Though some might feel that it’s extreme to use the word “pogrom,” in this case, I truly do not believe that I am exaggerating. Short of including actual murder, the recent anti-Semitic demonstrations in France have been reminiscent of pre-World War II Eastern Europe.
On Bastille Day, a group of anti-Israel protesters besieged a Paris synagogue filled with congregants while waving the flags of terrorist groups like Hamas, brandishing replicas of Qassam rockets that are being launched into Israel, and screaming phrases such as “Death to the Jews” and “Hitler was right.” On Sunday, despite the French government’s ban on protests instituted out of fear of another pogrom, a group of anti-Israel demonstrators marched through the streets screaming, “Death to Israel,” burned a kosher grocery store and a Jewish-owned pharmacy, and attempted to destroy some synagogues. The violence seems to be never ending, with news of new attacks every few days.
These pogroms are fueled by the escalating tensions over the situation in the Middle East, but French Jewry has been in a precarious state for over a decade. Ridiculous amounts of anti-Semitic violence have been inflicted upon the community for years: in 2006, a Jewish man was kidnapped, tortured for three weeks, and left for dead, and in 2012, three children and a teacher were killed in a shooting at a Jewish school. Though these are extreme examples of contemporary French anti-Semitism, they characterize the experience of Jews living in France as one marked by a justified fear of terrible violence.
I am a Jew in America. I have no blood relatives in France. But these pogroms are personal.
These pogroms are personal because I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. My grandmother survived Auschwitz and my grandfather survived a labor camp, but few of their family members survived with them. My grandparents created a new life in America, putting the horrors they endured behind them in order to focus on a brighter future. To see echoes of 1930s Hitler-era Europe in modern-day France, Germany, and Turkey is terrifying. My grandparents did not survive the Holocaust for another one to kill their grandchildren. I will not idly behold these portents of genocide.
These pogroms are personal because I feel a connection to every Jew. When Abraham Geiger, a leading Reform Jewish figure in the 1840s, was approached about a blood libel in Damascus, he famously responded that he was more concerned with his fellow German Jews’ ability to obtain pharmacy licenses. I do not share this particularistic approach to Jewish community. On the contrary, I am equally concerned about American Jewish issues and foreign Jewish issues. My French brothers and sisters were threatened in these pogroms, and I consider that a personal threat.
These pogroms are personal because I feel a connection to every human being. I cannot even begin to imagine the suffering, both physical and emotional, that European Jewry must be going through. No group of people deserves to be treated in the way that wannabe terrorists in France are acting towards that nation’s Jews. No group of people deserves to be targeted for violence simply because of who they are.
These pogroms are personal because they were triggered by Israel’s campaign against Hamas. Though I am a proud American, I consider Israel to be my true homeland, and those who align themselves against Israel align themselves against me. Even more so, I am spending the summer in Jerusalem–Hamas is trying to kill me. These protesters in France are Hamas’s friends. So, yes, it’s personal.
These pogroms are personal to me, but they should be unacceptable to every human being. It is imperative to raise awareness of what’s happening in France and Israel, and to vehemently oppose the senseless violence. Shtika k’hoda’ah–silence is like praise–the rabbis of old said. Their wisdom is just as relevant today. We must speak up now, to show that we do not stand with the terrorists of Europe and Gaza, to show that we will not stand for violence against the innocent.
Talia Weisberg ’17 lives in Lowell House. Her column will appear every two weeks this summer.