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How Terror Attack Hits Raw Nerve for Paris Jews Like Me

People gather outside French embassy in Berlin to say #JeSuisCharlie / Twitter

Paris, my city, is under attack. All of France is shocked and shattered.

As of 11:00 this morning, French TV channels and radio stations have interrupted their regular programming to cover the story of the attack. On Twitter, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie is now trending worldwide, unifying all those who reject terror of the kind we saw today.

Like all French citizens, my particular community — the Jewish community — is reeling from the news. Concerned as we have been for years about the spiraling communal tensions, the anti-Semitic attacks on Jews and the steadily mounting anti-Muslim sentiment, this hits an especially raw nerve.

Early this morning in the heart of Paris, just after the whole Charlie Hebdo staff gathered for its weekly meeting, three men burst in and opened fire on the satirical magazine’s cartoonists, leaving 12 dead. Back in 2006, Charlie Hebdo gained international notoriety when it reprinted cartoons of Mohammed. In France, the magazine is known for its fight against religious fundamentalism and for secularism. Week after week, it made fun of every religious authority imaginable: chief rabbis, imams, the Pope.

On French TV right now, they’re showing a video of the murderers leaving the building where the shootings took place. The killers are shouting “Allahu Akbar,” “We killed Charlie Hebdo” and “We have avenged the prophet” — exactly the sorts of chants that confirm many of the French public’s worst suspicions about Islam.

Meanwhile, Chief Rabbi of France Haim Korsia has taken to Facebook to publish this message on his account: “I am horrified and outraged by what has happened to Charlie Hebdo. I extend my condolences to the families of victims. The entire nation is mourning. It must come together in a burst of fraternity and solidarity with the bereaved families.”

People gather at a #JeSuisCharlie march under the banner “I’m Not Afraid” / Twitter

The message is clear. Leaders and religious representatives of the French Jewish community are calling for peace and unity at a time when France is divided over the question of Islam. Le Front National, the main far-right party with a strong anti-Muslim strain, has attained a very high level of support in the polls. Some intellectuals — including Jews like Eric Zemmour — keep on stoking the fires of Islamophobia, exciting the minds and hearts of those who feel “invaded” by strangers and immigrants.

Facing these diverging points of views, French Jews are more divided than ever. The majority is now increasingly attracted by radical speeches offering solutions to the problem of French anti-Semitism — a problem that seems to be worsening, and fast. Frightened, worried, thousands of Jews have already chosen to move to Israel.

Others — including young Jews like me — feel that making aliyah is a too-easy escape; it’s simply not the answer. Those of us who remain in Paris, Marseille or Lyon are determined not to let the terrorists win. Throughout French history, Jews have experienced many periods of crisis. We’ve always overcome them, and we will overcome them again. Now, more than ever, France needs us to stay here, to play the role of social whistleblower, to fight against the bias and discrimination that our people knows all too well.

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