Paris means a lot to me. It is the place I spent my honeymoon. Also, the summer before last, Sarah and I had four wonderful nights in that city. The Stade de France, one of the places which was attacked in November, hosted the soccer team I love back in 2006 in a very important game (which they lost)! I have friends in Paris and some of my friends in England have close family there. Since the attacks there have also been discussions about attacks in Beirut, Iraq and elsewhere, and they are indeed tragic, but Paris means more to me personally. I have more connections to the city and I can visualize its streets and sights. Moreover, the values of freedom, equality and fellowship, cherut, shivayon, achava, liberte, egalite, fraternite, are values that I hold dear.
Paris represents the world which is built on these values and these are the values that all of us teach to our children. As I presided over Antonia Heilman’s bat mitzvah in November I made it clear that while I was mourning for the victims of Paris, I was rejoicing that another teenager was graduating into adulthood, having been inculcated with the values above and with the values of the holy Torah. Each person who passes through Temple Sinai, I have resolved, will understand these values on a deep level. Freedom of expression and thought to be who we want to be as long as it does not impinge on the rights of others. Equality because we are all made in the image of G-d and deserve to be respected and cherished on that basis. Fellowship because we are stronger together and we know that all real living takes place in meeting, in the full encounter between two people with the divine presence at their shoulder.
By the way, Judaism is not a pacifist religion. If someone comes to kill you, you can kill them without reproach. I don’t like violence but I’m ok with it if it defends those values against those who would take them from us. At the same time, we are exalted to be rodfei shalom, pursuers of peace, with those with whom we can find common ground; A terrible and terrifying balancing act; On the one hand, understanding that our military might will be one of the main tools against ISIS; On the other hand, not giving into hatred of anyone who is not like us, thereby offering terrorism a second victory.
The society which is built on freedom, equality and fellowship, has room for diversity and appreciation of difference while, at the very same time, defending to the hilt, using our armed services, those who inhabit that society. We are stronger than them. Even though many of us have fear tearing at the edge of our existence, we owe it to the victims of terrorism to continue our lives as normally as possible.
Do not pause for a second from teaching freedom, equality and fellowship to your children and fellow Americans. Do not pause for a moment from pursuing peace where it is possible. Do not pause for an instant in rejecting hatred in all its forms.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen