Two Perspectives from Paris by Lior and Gaëlle Toledano
A View from Paris
By Lior Toledano
My name is Lior, I am a French Jew from Paris and I studied at Rutgers for one year. After the terrorist attacks in my city against the magazine Charlie Hebdo and the kosher market Hyper Cacher, everyone here, every Jew in France, is reflecting on what it means to be Jewish, what it means to be French. What do those people, murdered just because they were Jewish, have to do with me? What are we going to do now?
I rarely imagined that someone could represent me. Nowadays, I understand that these people, the French Jewish victims of terror, are symbols. They died, in a certain way, for my existence. They are granted the title of “martyrs” by the press –what a meager consolation for their parents, their loved ones!
Though I am sure that regarding many things within Judaism, we do not share the same opinions, today, I feel the need and obligation to mourn for these people, zichronam livracham/may all of their memories be for a blessing, whom I do not know, of whom I only share this, to be a Jew.
Politics have never interested me, so little that I did not even understand those who were. I did not listen much to the radio, television even less. Yet, I can no longer believe what I was taught in 5th grade, in 2001, about the media: that they are always objective, even when it is a real challenge. How could I believe that? In the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by French media, I could see that neutrality did not exist.
I am not used to having to state as evidence what is a part of me: I am French, I love my country, I belong to it as it belongs to me. There is no rupture possible between me, a French Jew and my country, the multicultural, multi-religious and yet, “laïque” (secular) France.
I still believe this is so.
Yet I hear many of my Jewish relatives – including my parents, for the first time in my life – talk about aliyah as a solution of refuge.
I will stay as long as my government protects me, as long as I feel equal to my fellow citizens. As long as Démocracie (demos kratos means, in Greek, the power to the people) is very much a friend of République (res publica in Latin: the thing of the people).
I believe education is the way. We have to think about the youngsters in the suburbs, getting lost to the République, ending up in malevolent hands, and many of a time, radicalizing into acts of violence. We have to give our young an appreciation for criticism, which is salutary. I do not call for more than the learning of thinking by oneself. We, too, have to think over the République – and the laïcité, a core value in French République (the acceptance of all religions as long as they remain in the private domain).
The Jewish community, one of the communities I belong to, has been attacked and this is antisemitism. First we must put the right words on things, to be able to eradicate the real causes; and then we have to think of how this community can integrate the public debate (res publica) fully. As French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in a very acclaimed speech at the Assemblée Nationale, “France would not be France without its Jews.”
Thoughts from a Jew in France
By Gaëlle Toledano, sister of Lior
Everything has been said and written on the tragic events that have traumatized France these last days, but I would like to also add my little pebble.
As the daughter of an Alsatian mother (Alsace is a French region), as a Jewess proud of her native France, as an employee of a State institution, the Ministry of Health, I feel doubly in mourning. Here are two reflections I have been having.
First of all, despite emotion and fear, we have to hold on to our reason. The excessive media coverage that the three terrorists received is also the fuel for their actions. By keeping the media hysteria going, we also nourish the ground for continued violence. (By the way, I thank BFM-TV for their exclusive interview of Coulibaly [Amedy Coulibal, one of the terrorists] direct from the hostage taking in the Hyper Cacher kosher market.)
Also, remember that We Are Charlie – but not only Charlie. Among the 17 people dead, 13 were killed for their actions and ideas, and 4 for who they were. I have heard in what people are saying a love of freedom of press, which was venerated under Third Republic and eliminated under Vichy. More than freedom, I hear people expressing love for the Republican values that are equality, democracy, and fraternity.
Under the Occupation by Nazi Germany, “Fraternité” was one of the clandestine papers edited by the Résistance. It was the tribune of those who refused to bend to the uniform way of thinking dictated by the Vichy regime, which forced people to yell with the pack (meaning a pack of wolves), and to think that national unity could only come from the hatred of the Other.
Today, I cherish the last word of our Republican motto: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Fraternity pushes us to protest for the freedom of speech, to fight and die for our ideas, to sing La Marseillaise (the French national anthem) with a crowd, half mocking its old-school lyrics, while intently watching our neighbor to check that he is not scorching these same lyrics.
I also appreciate that fraternity pushes us to protest so that France honours the second principle of our motto, equality (égalité). Equality in the treatment of information, equality of the indignation one feels, equality in our determination to fight for those who died for what they were as well as for those who died for their ideas. And that, as a French woman and as a Jew, I can continue to be defended and heard as much as the others, and live in a France of humor and fresh water (this latter phrase is a pun on the expression in French: “vivre d’amour et d’eau fraiche”, meaning “to live on love (“amour,” love, sounds like “humour,” humor) and fresh water” – to live simply.