The world’s attention has been drawn to the City of Lights where another dark stain of terrorism was spilled onto the pages of history. Two separate incidents, resulting in the deaths of 17 citizens of France, brought grief to many.
On Sunday, January 11, 2015 an estimated 1.5 million people, led by some 50 world leaders, marched in the streets of Paris, with millions more assembling in other cities. In addition to showing solidarity with those who grieved, they wished to take a stand against those seeking to impose Islam through terror. Many carried signs with the words “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie,” referencing Charlie Hebdo, the publishing house where 12 people were murdered for cartoons satirizing Islam).
“Je suis Juif” (“I am a Jew”) signs were also present. The kosher grocery store was targeted precisely so Jewish people would be killed. The slain include:
• Yoav Hattab, 21, son of the chief rabbi of Tunis
• Yohan Cohen, 22, a Jewish student whose parents moved to France from Algeria
• Philippe Braham, 45; his brother is a rabbi in a Paris suburb
• François-Michel Saada, 63, a retiree whose children live in Israel
Philippe Braham’s children attend a Jewish school near where the same terrorist who shot their father had shot a French policewoman the previous day. Knowing even a few details of those who were shot in cold blood personalizes the horror.
Similarly, we learned that Sarah, the daughter of one of our team members in France, was at work a block away from one of the shootings when it occurred. Understandably the Israel family, along with the entire Jewish community of France – indeed the nation – were shaken by these tragic events. Knowing that simmering anti-Semitism easily boils over to evil actions has many of France’s half-million Jews seriously considering making aliyah to Israel.
The “Je suis Juif” signs reminded me of the story of King Christian X of Denmark during the Nazi occupation. As it’s been told, the Nazis issued an edict that Danish Jews had to wear the yellow Star of David. The king’s response was to encourage all Danes to follow his example and wear the dishonored badge.
Perhaps he would have done so, but history never records such a requirement by the Nazis in Denmark. The delightful story is, alas, apocryphal, at least in the details.
However, there are many stories of Danish resistance. In fact, much of Denmark’s Jewish population was able to escape the deportation order in October 1943. Many thousands were helped to escape by boats of every kind to Sweden. Fewer than 500 were rounded up by the Nazis and sent to Theresienstadt; 90% of those survived the war.
I have Danish blood in my veins. My maternal grandmother, Helga Mogensen Payton, was born in Horsens, Denmark. Lori and I visited that small city on the occasion of our 25th wedding anniversary. We also visited the Netherlands, where Lori’s maternal grandparents have roots. We’ve been to Anne Frank’s home in Amsterdam. We have stood in the narrow hiding place in the ten Boom home in Haarlem, and thrilled at their story of courage and sacrifice.
Lori and I often have visited the Garden of the Righteous Gentiles on the grounds of Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. We have seen the rows of trees marked with plaques bearing the names of folks like Corrie ten Boom who, at the risk (and sometimes the cost) of their own lives, helped spare Jewish people from death.
I have wondered many times, Would I have the courage to risk my life to save another’s? More specifically, would my professed love for the Jewish people extend to sacrificing for them? It’s one thing to talk about my deep gratitude to the Jewish people for the spiritual riches – the Scriptures, our Messiah – which we have received through them. It’s another to take a stand in the face of manifest hatred and malevolent butchery.
As the tide of evil and terror continues to rise, the hypothetical moves closer to actual. Hatred of the Jewish people resulted in this week’s obituaries carrying the names of Yoav and Yonatan, Philippe and François-Michel. We have every indication they will not be the last.
Who will stand with the Jewish people when it matters most? What if all who bear the name Christian – kings or not – would identify with the Jewish people? What would the Lord have me do?