What’s My Name?

I had so hoped that this new year would somehow be better than 2014, a year that was filled with so much suffering and death. I don’t know why I let myself embrace that thought, but I did. And here we are, just inside the doorway of 2015 and the news from Paris is horrible and overwhelming. Of course I know there’s plenty of good news in the world. America has more jobs, the stock market seems secure and bullish, kids have gotten into college, the Ebola scare has been tamed, and of course, we’re here, breathing, living, connecting.

It’s not that there is bad news; it’s always been around. It’s the increasing virulence of the headlines and the worsening ways in which some humans extol killing and maiming innocent people as a statement of faith. This scourge of terrorism feels pernicious and long lived.

I actually chose the title of this week’s Before Shabbat 2 weeks ago while I was in Israel. I wanted to tell you a story about identity and Jewishness and Zionism and the different names we acquire at different phases of our lives. The title remains but the original story was wrested away in Paris.

Today I stand in solidarity with all of the journalists and writers and cartoonists and photographers and stringers and critics who risk their lives to speak out and share their thoughts and ideas. Je suis Charlie.

I mourn the loss of Stéphane Charbonnier and Jean Cabut and Georges Wolinski and Bernard Verlhac, Philippe Honore and Bernard Maris, Elsa Cayat and Mustapha Ourrad, Michel Renaud, Frederic Boisseau, Ahmed Merabet and Franck Brinsolaro, the 12 victims killed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a raunchy political newspaper. I honor them and their bravery to lampoon the status quo. I applaud their right to “go too far” in their statements or their imagery even when I am offended by their crudity. The world needs such people to remind us of our temporality. Freedom requires us to take a deep breath and not take ourselves too seriously.

Radical Islam is utterly unable to abide diversity of opinion and belief. Freedom of thought and expression are anathema to any totalitarian regime. The mere fact that humor and the act of laughing at oneself are unlawful in the eyes of radical Islamists is absurd. That political humor, even poor or low brow humor, might provoke assassination and mayhem is beyond belief.

As David Brooks wrote in the New York Times today, “…provocateurs and other outlandish figures serve useful public roles. Satirists and ridiculers expose our weakness and vanity when we are feeling proud. They puncture the self-puffery of the successful. They level social inequality by bringing the mighty low. When they are effective they help us address our foibles communally, since laughter is one of the ultimate bonding experiences.” http://tinyurl.com/o6wf2qt

I have another name today. Actually it is always one of my names but usually not in French. Je suis Juif. I am a Jew. I am one of the customers at the kosher supermarket purchasing last minute Shabbat wine and a challah. Je suis Juif. I’m buying Shabbat candles with my grandson, schmoozing with the cashier about Israel. I don’t have the names of the 4 dead yet, but I know mine. Je suis Juif. I am a Jew, a vulnerable person by virtue of my name and my history. For centuries I hid from the mercurial wrath of antisemites and their ilk. For centuries I tried to avoid trouble, to do the complicated Jewish equivalent of “putting on the ole master”.

But no more. Je suis Juif. I will not go gently into that good night. I will stand for justice and for freedom, for my people, for all people. I will speak out in the face of inequity: in the USA, in France, in Israel.

I guess it was irrational to assume a new year would somehow bring us closer to a Messianic era. I see that the work for this year more than ever is to declare as did the Bratslaver rebbe, “Don’t despair.” It won’t be easy. But that’s a part of why we’re here. Nous sommes Juifs.

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