By Jennifer Lader
On Jan. 9, extremist Muslim gunmen took hostages in a Paris kosher food market, killing four. Days earlier, Islamic militants stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a controversial publication, killing 12. These tragedies followed on years of sporadic violence, including the fatal shootings at a French Jewish school three years ago that grew to a fever pitch during Israel's conflict with Gaza in the summer of 2014 and have remained ubiquitous ever since. Though seemingly far away, these events and the Lehigh Valley response to them highlight challenges and connections that span the globe.
This publication regularly covers the French Jewish community, the third largest in the world, because of the Lehigh Valley's connections there through some of its own residents, but particularly because it has become a hotspot for anti-Semitism.
Like numerous other groups, the Lehigh Valley Jewish community has, through the Federation and its Annual Campaign for Jewish Needs, provided funds to assist the Jewish community in France. The Jewish Agency for Israel, a beneficiary agency that is one of the major vehicles through which the Federation assists world Jewry, has taken on the task of helping French Jewish communities with their requests as they implement special security measures at schools, Jewish community centers, synagogues and other institutions. The Jewish Agency has also seen a dramatic increase in aliyah from France (see story page 3), a trend that is expected to continue.
“The case for our Annual Campaign, which supports the needs of worldwide Jewry, is written on the front pages of the New York Times,” said Mark L. Goldstein, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley. “Combating anti-Semitism. Fighting against boycotts and sanctions against Israel. Helping Israel absorb immigrants, especially those seeking refuge. Improving safety and security for Jews and Jewish institutions. These are why we have an Annual Campaign for Jewish Needs.”
Following the events of early January, the Federation sent a letter of heartfelt sympathy and support to the Jewish community of France, which reads in part, "Our community is standing side by side with the people of France during this very difficult time. We share your grief and send our unwavering support to the entire Jewish community. At the same time, we are ready and determined to continue working with our local, national and international partners to ensure that every single Jew around the world is safe."
Although the tragedies in France may appear sporadic, albeit more frequent than in the past, placing them in a larger context provides clues to deeper and more alarming underpinnings. Also in early January, and much less reported in the media, a group of terrorist Islamic insurgents who call themselves Boko Haram (meaning "Western education is forbidden") massacred the 2,000 inhabitants of a remote Nigerian village. ISIS is of growing concern to many countries around the world. Some young men and women are being recruited by such groups to leave the U.S. and elsewhere to join these extremists, the men as fighters and the women as brides, as reported recently by National Public Radio.
These activities map to something to which U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch referred during his visit to the Lehigh Valley in November. Extremists who link their activities to some form of religious mandate are increasingly evident. At times there is as well an agenda that demonizes Jews.
Particularly in the past year, this publication has covered political gains by right wing, outspokenly anti-Semitic groups in European countries such as Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece. There has been coverage, too, of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that has been of growing concern to Jewish groups across the U.S., especially because of the BDS's dissemination of propaganda on American college campuses where currently reside the leaders of tomorrow.
"Fighting anti-Semitism around the world is integral to what the Federation does," said Mark L. Goldstein, JFLV executive director, "and this is a time to re-double our efforts to unite the Jewish community, support Jewish life in the Lehigh Valley and, as has been brought home to us with the events of the past month, around the world."