After the Jan. 9 attack at a kosher supermarket in Paris and following the recent acts of vandalism on Jewish graves, France’s Jewish population is fearful and uneasy.
Outside of Israel, France’s Jewish community is the largest in the world after America’s, and according to Shepard (Shep) Englander, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati
, it’s important that we support those in need. He recently traveled to France as part of a Solidarity Mission Trip with other Jewish Federations from across North America.
“In one sense, they are our little brother,” Englander says. “In another sense, they are our older brother, because Jews have been living in France for centuries, serving in positions as senior at Prime Minister twice. Throughout history, Jews have only survived because we have supported and cared for each other. It’s wonderful to see that tradition living on in Cincinnati.”
Cincinnati has a direct connection with France in that Cincinnati’s Sister City is Netanya, Israel, which is the No. 1 destination for French Jews “making aliyah” — or a new life in Israel. Cincinnati also had the largest delegation per capita of any U.S. city in France.
For Englander, the ongoing shock that recent attacks have created stands out.
“France has traditionally been a highly secular or non-religious society,” Englander says. “However, many among France’s growing Muslim population sees the place of religion in society very differently. What has become clear is that the traditional French view of the limits of these freedom is being rejected by some segment of this growing immigrant population. National reconciliation will require a deep and long rethinking of how freedom of speech and freedom of religion work there.”
And it’s partially on us, Englander says, to help.
“One way we can help is to highlight the strengths of the American approach to accommodating difference,” he says. “Traditionally, the French have recognized only one national French community and have managed diversity with a ‘color-blind’ approach. Minorities are expected to identify just as French and to keep their religious identities out of the public sphere, like public schools.
“America’s approach to diversity is to seek a ‘pluralist’ society. An American is not less American because they are Jewish-American, Chinese-American or Muslim-American. Multiple identities are recognized and welcomed.”
• Broaden your own efforts to promote tolerance.
• Learn to distinguish reasonable political debate from hate-driven rejection of a nation or people.
• Welcome and embrace individuals who are different culturally, religiously, racially and socio-economically.