It pains me to think of Jewish parents and their children living in France. For adults to feel vulnerable and helpless to protect their children from hate are surely horrible feelings. But such is the reality not only in France, but other places also. Yes, anti-Semitism is on the rise, and we rightfully question “what should we do?” and “how can we make the world safer for our children and grandchildren?” (Sigmund Freud wrote of his feelings of humiliation as his father was being verbally abused by a Nazi.)
Yes, it is easy to ask the questions, but so hard to have effective answers. For this kind of hate and aggression are rooted in ignorance that translates into prejudice and sometimes violence.
A father in our congregation recently told me a story of his children who were playing in a swimming pool in a major European city. Soon the children returned to the hotel room, crying because a man had been mean to them. The father went to the pool where he encountered an obviously European man who complained that these children had splashed water on his wife. “There have to be rules,” he insisted. The father responded: “My children are here and were following the rules! Might it be that you did not like the star (of David) that my son was wearing around his neck?” the father probed. “This is not the issue,” responded the European. “Yes, that is the issue,” responded the Jewish father.
How can we protect our children from hurt? I’m afraid that there is no shielding them from all hurt and pain. That’s part of growing up, and part of being human. People do cruel things. People sometimes hate the one who appears different in one way or another, and to be Jewish has often meant “different.” We are different by virtue of our religion, and those things in which we do not believe. We are different because of our holidays, and observances and ideals. And we are different because, from generation to generation, people have labeled us as such, often needing a scapegoat to blame for troubles and ordeals.
But there is something that we can give our children that will surely strengthen them and enable them to respond to the “haters” and bigots of our world. It is a sense of positive Jewish identity. It is a feeling of pride in being Jewish, and knowing that we continue to stand on the side of all that is good and right and worthy.
Edmund Flegg was a French writer. His words resonate, especially at this time.
“I am a Jew because in every time when despair cries out, the Jew hopes.
I am a Jew because of promise of Judaism is the universal promise.
I am a Jew because the Jew places humanity and its unity above the nations and above ourselves.”
To that young boy: “May you wear that Star of David with pride!” And may we all know that to be Jewish is both a blessing and a responsibility.