Bay Area Jewish community reaches out to people of France

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The red, white and blue lights illuminating San Francisco’s City Hall last Saturday night had nothing to do with Old Glory. They represented the Tricolor, the flag of France, and conveyed the Bay Area’s sympathies a day after the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris.

The Bay Area Jewish community also has expressed its sorrow and its solidarity with France in the wake of the attacks, which took 129 lives and injured hundreds.

John Ephron

In a joint statement, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the S.F.-based and East Bay Jewish federations described their collective “horror and outrage” and vowed to stand “united with the people of France and united in grief with the families of innocent people who were murdered.”

The San Francisco office of the Consulate General of Israel similarly has reached out to the people of France.

“We were shocked by the series of deadly attacks that struck Paris,” said Israeli Consul General Andy David, who signed a book of condolence at the French Consulate a few blocks from his Financial District office. “Certainly as a nation we’d like to present our condolences to the families of the victims and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded. The State of Israel will stand shoulder to shoulder with France in the fight against terrorism.”

The outpouring of support deeply touched Pauline Carmona, France’s consul general in San Francisco. She noted that in addition to City Hall, landmarks such as Oracle Arena and SFO buildings were lit in the colors of the French flag. Since Nov. 13, well-wishers have placed wreaths, flowers and notes at the entrance of the consulate on Kearny Street.

Carmona also received calls of support from Jewish institutions including JCRC, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

“I want to thank them all for their support and comforting messages,” she said. “The main message from Parisians and French people, like after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, is we’re not afraid. Of course, life is not as usual because of the many security measures that have been taken, but the main message we want to convey is [we] are still alive.”

Some observers in the Jewish community reflected on how the Nov. 13 attacks might impact European Jewry and other aspects of geopolitics.

Avi Rose

John Ephron, a professor of modern Jewish history at U.C. Berkeley who specializes in European Jewry, has followed closely the unfolding events in Paris. Unlike previous terror attacks in France, including the 2012 murders at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the slaughters last January at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and the Hyper Casher kosher grocery store, all of which were identifiable as political and religious targets, the Nov. 13 attacks struck Ephron as more arbitrary.

“The randomness of it all is striking,” he said. “That seems to suggest the intent wasn’t so much to make a statement about being able to attack national or sacred targets. It seems to me it was as much about doing damage as it was sending a message to ISIS supporters, a sort of green light that this is what you should be doing.”

Though police have since raided numerous suspected jihadi hideouts across France, and French fighter jets have pounded ISIS targets in Syria, military retaliation may not stave off a political backlash back home, according to Ephron.

“This is manna from heaven for the National Front,” he said, referring to the xenophobic far-right French political party. “And they were doing well before this. I’m curious to see how they do in [upcoming regional] elections after this.”

Because the terror spree coincided with a massive influx of Syrian refugees into Europe, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have demanded that the gates of asylum be closed, especially after the report that one of the Paris attackers slipped in among Syrian refugees crossing into Europe last month, possibly on a forged passport.

That cry rang especially loudly in the United States, where at least 30 primarily Republican governors this week declared their states would turn away Syrian Muslim refugees, and several Republican presidential candidates called on the government to bar Syrian refugees from resettling here.

That sentiment did not sit well with Avi Rose, executive director of Jewish Family & Community Services of the East Bay. In recent years his agency has resettled many Muslim refugees, including some from Syria.

“Refugees go through this very extensive process,” he said. “If they [are invited] to come to the United States, the State Department and Homeland Security are involved, with numerous in-person interviews, security clearances, fingerprinting and iris scanning. This is not a casual process.”

Though he called the Paris terror attacks “tragic, horrible and scary,” Rose also said the Jewish community and Western nations should remember their fundamental values.

“In the Jewish community we talk a lot about values,” he said. “One of them is welcoming the stranger. This is exactly the kind of time when we need to act on our values. Otherwise, what are they good for?

“We see our common humanity with this wave of refugees trying to survive, raise their kids, and find a place they can live with religious freedom. It’s our job now to welcome them.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.