It was a part of their weekly ritual. Every Friday, members of the France’s Jewish community would head to the local kosher supermarket, pick up groceries and prepare for the Sabbath.
This time was different. A gruesome massacre at a satirical magazine had shocked and rattled Parisians city-wide. But still, for France’s Jews, Friday began as always, with the Jewish community pressing forward, refusing to let fear alter their daily lives.
Armed assailants shattered an already fragile sense of security in France, sending an increasingly tense Jewish community reeling, left to pick up the pieces under a sense of threat, and while still in mourning. Now, 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, the Jews living in France once again are feeling vulnerable. The ripples of fear from the threat carried on into Saturday when according to French sources, the sounds of firecrackers outside a Paris synagogue rattled parishioners who first believed it was gunfire. This is not the first time the community has come under threat, but rather, it’s the culmination of a series of alarming incidents.
The latest was a pair of violent scenes that took place Friday when French authorities stormed two locations held by the alleged culprits and associates behind Wednesday’s massacre in Paris at the offices of satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. Three of the gunman were killed and the hostages they held were released. But with the assault at the Kosher grocery store – just a day after a French policewoman was killed in front of a Jewish school – the situation posed a pointed and significant meaning for a community all-too familiar with discrimination.
Jewish leaders across the world swiftly condemned the attacks as a violent act of anti-Semitism carried out by Islamic extremists. In a forceful statement released Friday, Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, urged world leaders to devise a comprehensive strategy to combat similar acts of terrorism and assaults on religious freedoms.
“Anti-Semitism is at the core of Islamic extremist ideology, interwoven with its hatred of basic democratic freedoms, and continues to motivate adherents around the world,” Foxman said in the statement. “The packaging of anti-Semitic narratives has radicalized followers and influenced numerous international and domestic extremists with tragic results.”
At first, the gruesome attack at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo – which led to eight journalists and four others being shot and killed – was thought to be a strike against freedom of speech over cartoons published depicting the Prophet Muhammad. But a day later, the target appeared to change. By Friday, with the massacre at the kosher store just as residents were preparing for the Sabbath, the message against the Jewish community came sharply into focus.
“It’s just horrible. We’re seeing both sides of this terrorist: one against freedom of press, against freedom of speech. And also, if you will, freedom against religion,” said Jane Eisner, editor of Forward, a Jewish-American national newspaper. ”It’s clearly an anti-Semitic act that goes to the very heart of it.”
Friday’s violence is just the latest to send shock waves throughout the Jewish community. There have been dozens of incidents in the last year alone, with a kosher restaurant firebombed, numerous assaults, and still more gruesome, a shooting of four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium last May.
Ronald S. Lauder, president of the Jewish World Congress, said in a statement Friday that after all the Jewish community around the world had been through, French citizens needed “to come out in their millions” to stand in unison against terrorism.
“Three years after the massacre at a Jewish school in Toulouse, and eight months after the deadly attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, were are faced with an Islamist terror campaign in Western Europe,” Lauder said in a statement. “We must not be intimidated by this campaign. If we stand united in defense of freedom and against hatred and intolerance, we will win.”
The uptick in anti-Semitic violence has already led to a massive upheaval, with thousands of Jewish citizens in France opting to flee from their homes for Israel, the United States and even Canada. “People feel stuck and worried,” Eisner said, adding that poor economic growth throughout Europe was also leading to the. “It’s a broader malaise that affects the French and others too. The continent has not really grown at all.”
Eisner said she hopes the recent attacks will not lead to a massive migration wave and result in a loss of culture in communities where Jews have held strong roots for centuries. “We would lose a very distinctive community. The overall vibrancy of the community would be hampered,” Eisner said. “That would be tragic.”