The Human Spirit: ‘Je suis Hyper Cacher’
Jan 23, 2015
Je suis Hyper Cacher.
I saw the post, by a Swedish person, on
the Hyper Cacher supermarket chain’s Facebook page last week.
I liked it.
The Kouachi brothers’ attack at the Charlie Hebdo magazine editorial office,
an attempt to silence by force the ideas put forth by the political cartoonists,
roused the ire of the French nation and the world – just as the Boston Marathon
Setting my Shabbat table in Jerusalem, I left the television
on until candle- lighting, following the news, which drew more than 80,000 law
enforcement officers to the stake-out.
One of the foreign commentators
worried that there were too many law enforcement officers in one place. The city
was vulnerable to a second attack. And then it came; suddenly, there was a
reported second focus.
Not another symbol of French emancipation; no, the
Hyper Cacher, a neighborhood kosher market.
It’s easy for those of us who
frequent kosher supermarkets when we travel abroad to picture it, packages of
Israeli soup mixes, shelves of wine, refrigerator cases of cheeses.
hour before the store was closing on Friday afternoon before Shabbat, shoppers
running in for those last-minute purchases – extra grape juice, maybe there’s a
halla left, a packet of croutons. The sickening feeling of the Jews captured and
attacked, trying to protect their children, not knowing if they will ever see
their loved ones again.
The horror scene in Hyper Cacher continues to be
eclipsed by the Charlie Hebdo massacre, a sidebar in the cause of protecting
freedom of expression, the rousing response of fraternity and solidarity in the
Hyper Cacher continues to haunt me.
Why did the
terrorists, working in tandem, choose an inconspicuous deli? Because they needed
to make their message clear. This is never only about Western freedom – it’s
also about the Jews.
Just ask the Islamists in Algeria who honored the
Kouachi brothers – whose family is from Algeria – as local heroes. When they
celebrated the slaying of the magazine staff, they shouted, “Strike France and
The Charlie Hebdo massacre was an internationally planned and
executed attack on a renowned satirical magazine by a large terror network. Did
al-Qaida in Yemen or Islamic State also dispatch a gunner to a neighborhood shop
carrying kosher bread and salami? In its post-massacre investigative piece,
based on hundreds of pages of documents and the legwork of many reporters, The
New York Times details the evolution of Cherif Kouachi from “an easily spooked
amateur jihadist” a decade ago to the hardened killer of January 2015. But even
back in 2004, Kouachi was obsessed with slaughtering Jews in their neighborhood
shops in Paris.
And so, before the world’s attention moved on, comrade
Amedy Coulibaly fulfilled for him this important part of his demonic goal.
Carrying two guns and a commando knife, Coulibaly burst through the deli door.
Coulibaly grew up in a large family that had immigrated from the Republic of
Mali, a West African country where most have never even met a Jew. There is no
Jewish community, although there are some 1,000 alleged descendants of Jews in
Coulibaly murdered four Jewish men and held the other
supermarket staff and customers hostage. At the same time, in a scene
reminiscent of the Holocaust, Lassana Bathily, another man from Mali, hid Jews
in a cold storage room and slipped out to help the police. This Righteous
Gentile was first mistaken for a terrorist.
Only after the Boston
Marathon bombing and subsequent attack on a security guard in 2013 did police
make the connection between the terrorist Tsarnaev brothers and an unsolved 2011
triple homicide in Waltham, Massachusetts.
At least two, maybe all three,
of the victims were Jews – their throats slit from ear to ear, with such great
force that they were nearly decapitated. Sound familiar? Can we not assume that
for the Tsarnaevs, the fight wasn’t just against freedom – it was also against
the Jews? The Grand Synagogue of Paris – not particularly close to the deli, but
the ultimate symbol of French Jewry – was closed for services the first time
since World War II.
The prime minister of the State of Israel isn’t
wanted, the media say. Better he should stay home.
I know it is election
season and in our country of Charlie Hebdo-like free press, almost everything is
fair game for verbal attacks, but imagine how we would have felt if our prime
minister had been absent like the president of the United States. Imagine the
families of the victims sitting through the evening service at the synagogue
without the head of the Jewish state – as if the Jews of the Diaspora were not
Half the hate crimes in France are reportedly visited on
Jews, who make up less than 1 percent of the population, according to The
Our prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wasn’t wanted because
the French didn’t want their narrative to be diluted with the embarrassing woes
of the Jews.
The banality of that reaction is what might encourage the
Jews of France to act on their Zionist instincts, not the fear of anti-Semitism.
And then I open the International New York Times, and wince at the headline:
“Netanyahu sells French Jews short.”
The writer, Bernard Avishai, who
teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Dartmouth College in Hanover,
New Hampshire (as opposed to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, where
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of the Boston Marathon attack studied), seems puzzled by what
Israel could offer our French Jewish brethren.
Dr. Avishai, who describes
himself as an Israeli-American, insists that emancipated French Jews would be
disappointed by the lack of strict civil equality, that they would be lost in
secular Hebrew culture and under our Orthodox religious hierarchy. And of
course, they won’t find “an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian
I guess Dr. Avishai is a New Englander, now. That’s where
I, an American-Israeli, grew up. Back in my hometown of Colchester, Connecticut,
we made important decisions by town meeting (often moderated by my father, who
also moderated the Free Loan Society in Yiddish). We had voting machines brought
in for student council elections so that we’d get used to voting when we grew
up. We recited the Gettysburg Address on the village green across from the white
Congregational Church, and we had an annual test with awards on the American
Constitution and Bill of Rights.
I won that prize, but I don’t see the
lessthan- ideal aspects of Israeli democracy as a barrier to living here. Just
the opposite. As part of the Jewish people, I see myself as part of the ongoing
efforts to make change and perfect this state using the same tools as we had in
Colchester: the voting booth, demonstrations, impacting the media. And there
have been changes.
That’s the opportunity which exists for French Jews
who might consider moving here.
Moving to Israel is a multifaceted
decision and challenge, as nearly every reader of this column knows. No one
needs to tell us there is no guarantee of personal safety. We have strapped gas
masks on toddlers and wept with a mix of pain and pride as our children board
those buses that take away teenagers and bring back soldiers. Who among us has
not heard the obscene blast of terrorist bombs and rockets? The recent terrorist
attack in Jerusalem’s Har Nof took place in a neighborhood synagogue.
of the murderers worked in the corner deli, and used a meat cleaver to crush the
brains of the Jews at prayer.
When I was a girl reading the Passover
Haggada in Colchester, I remember feeling that the sentence “In every
generation, they rise up to attack us,” no longer applied. You can understand my
What we offer in Israel isn’t safety – it’s meaning.
Jerusalem today, I have French immigrant neighbors in the apartments above and
below me. They didn’t run away from France, they ran towards being part of this
conflicted, argumentative, magnifique little Jewish country – the only one we