Responses to the attacks in France

When I was contacted by a West Country newspaper for a comment on the atrocities committed in France I said I was unable to make any comment at this stage. I felt unsure about what would be the correct approach and I did not wish to make a knee-jerk reaction to the incident at that stage. The next day, as the situation developed, we heard about the attack on a Jewish Supermarket and at that point it would have been appropriate, but by then the paper had gone to press. There have since been several well-prepared and thoughtful statements made and I have added the two which come from leading representatives of the Reform Movement. They seem to reflect what I hope we all believe:

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain

We have all read and seen the dreadful events over the last few days, and members have asked what is our response, so here are a few thoughts:

1st – to carry on as normal – not to suddenly become neurotic – not to turn from being carefree to suspicious – to keep our everyday lifestyle – because adopting a bunker mentality will destroy our lives and relationships much more than any isolated attack

2nd – not to blame Islam for the deranged members among it…nor hold all Muslims responsible for the disturbed Muslims that exist

3rd – not to blame religion in general as the source of all evil – of course there are those who do terrible things in its name – but there are plenty of murderous atheists, with Hitler, Stalin, Mao tse Tung and Poll Pot leading the way – while we also know that religion can lead to great good in society and many individuals acts of kindess. I like to think that Maidenhead Synagogue is source for good too.

4th – not to stop the ability of cartoonists and writers to satirise religion… because freedom of speech is one of our key values…and it is not just healthy to have that openness, but it is a vital safeguard and nothing should be immune from criticism, otherwise it would allow abuses to go unchecked

5th – carrying on as normal does not mean being complacent, and we have long had a trained security team made up of members who offer both practical security and a visual deterrent. If anyone would like to join the team or find out more, please do contact me.

6th – appreciating that we live in a different society from France and with different social trends; although we are not immune from terrible acts (witness the 7/7 London bombings), life in our particular area has been remarkably tolerant and trouble-free….long may it remain so.

Working hard at good inter-faith relations is part of that process

None of the above is new, but it’s precisely when one’s assumptions are challenged by a shocking event, that one needs to not go into panic mode but simply restate the values we hold and from which we will not be deflected.

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism

Moments before this email was due to be sent out, disturbing news started to come in from Paris; news of shootings and the taking of hostages who were preparing for Shabbat, buying food from a kosher supermarket. We stand firmly beside our Jewish brothers and sisters in France. Our response to this news must be to continue living our Jewish lives with pride, celebrating Shabbat, attending synagogues, lighting candles and joining together without fear.

Our siddur (prayerbook) includes this prayer for the release of captives:

God our redeemer, who set us free from the slavery of Egypt, we turn to You to release all hostages and captives, all who are enslaved to others. We pray now in particular for those taken hostage in Paris. May You be with them at this time of trial. Give wisdom and strength to those who work for their release and bring about a speedy end to this suffering. May You support the families and friends who can only watch and wait in fear and anxiety. Help us know what we too can do when prayers alone are not enough.
Blessed are You, our Living God, Sovereign of the universe, whose commandments make us holy and who commands us concerning the freeing of captives.

I pray for the friends, family and communities of the twelve victims of the dreadful Charlie Hebdo massacre. The attack on Wednesday morning, when those two fanatics murdered journalists and police in Paris, was a deeply chilling and profound tragedy.

What happened was also the result of fear – those who carried out this atrocity fear free speech and they fear the freedom to offend and be offended. No faith encourages isolation from other beliefs, however difficult they are to digest. That message was echoed immediately by Islamic scholars and Muslim organisations across France, Britain and the wider world. We see the same support for open and challenging debate in The Book of Proverbs, which insists that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. So our views are shaped and sharpened by others, however they may challenge us or particularly, ‘davka’ because they do challenge us.

When we avoid engaging with other people or recognising difference, our ideas become blunt, weakened. They become obsolete and disconnected from reality – and rely on claims of absolute truth and divine endorsement. Extremists isolate themselves from debate and when it threatens them, they eventually try to destroy it through violence.
Just as the Paris terrorists went on the run, all extremists are trying to escape the same thing: the power and potency of the free exchange of ideas. That is why this week, before soldiers or politicians or members of the public, they came after journalists. As a collective, the way to defeat extremism is by safeguarding the coexistence of different beliefs and voices in public spaces. As individuals, it is by engaging with the ‘other’ and exposing ourselves to debate, even when it is difficult.

The symbol the world saw on Thursday night was far from one of difference and division. Lights were turned off at the Eiffel Tower, and then mosques, to mark the pain and sorrow that the nation was

You will also find comments elsewhere on the internet by the Council for Christians and Jews as well as a moving statement by the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue. They are all well worth viewing at this time and give us a chance to reflect on our own feelings.