TERROR AND FAITH
January 23, 2015
Beis Moshiach in #958, News

The wave of terror in Paris left the Jewish community in France reeling and mourning, as they struggle to digest the new reality. * Leaders and rabbanim, led by the Rebbe’s shluchim, were the first to stand by the side of the bereaved families and all of French Jewry, providing spiritual and material support. * Exclusive: Stories of those who experienced astonishing miracles.  

Police outside the kosher supermarket

Erev Shabbos, Parshas Shmos, the Chabad House in Sarcelles which is near Paris slowly filled with worshipers. The atmosphere was despondent and tense. Outside, French police patrolled the street. Their instructions were to stay in constant movement so as not to provide an easy target in a potential attack.

In the shul in the Chabad House basement, the name of Yohan Cohen, may Hashem avenge his blood, was whispered. They all knew him; he was part of the group of young men who regularly visited the Chabad House. His family was also very connected with the Chabad House. They all knew he worked at the besieged Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket. They assumed he was there, but at that time nobody knew his fate.

World Jewry nervously followed the unfolding of events in Paris during those five nerve-wracking hours before Shabbos. Shabbos began in France and the situation had not reached a conclusion. A few minutes after Mincha, someone walked into the Chabad House and shouted, “They broke into the store and some people were killed!” He was repeating what he heard from the policemen upstairs.

“We knew that there were dead hostages, but we did not know their names,” said Shimon Meir Chaviv, a bachur who was spending the Shabbos on shlichus at the Chabad House. “The shliach, R’ Yaakov Bitton, immediately gathered the crowd and delivered a special talk in light of the situation.”

At 9:00 there were knocks at the door of R’ Bitton’s home. At the door were the mayor and police officers. They had come to tell him that a member of his community, Yohan Cohen, was among the murdered. They asked him to be with the family when they heard the tragic news.

“I went with them,” said R’ Bitton. “I spent several hours with the family. I tried to encourage and support them. At times like these, there isn’t much to say. You mainly need to be there and be supportive.

“He was a fine, quiet boy. He would daven and attend shiurim and activities at the Chabad House,” said R’ Bitton. “We have a very close relationship with his entire family.” R’ Bitton said that the family even asked that the funeral leave from the Chabad House, but the organizers of the mass funeral in Eretz Yisroel pressured them to make one joint funeral.

“There is a large group of young people who are deeply connected to the Chabad House,” said R’ Dovid Chaviv, one of the shluchim in Sarcelles. “Yohan was a member of the group. Shabbos morning, we sat with some of the guys and thought about what we can do. On their own, they decided to start a new shiur in Chassidus in memory of their friend.”

DOZENS OF CHILDREN HOLED UP IN THE CHABAD HOUSE

The Chabad House in S. Mande is only a few hundred meters away from the store where the attack took place. One of the projects of the Chabad House is a kosher lunch room for Jewish children who attend public schools in the area. When the terrorist entered the store, there were nearly thirty Jewish children in the Chabad House who were getting ready for lunch. The police were taking no chances and they asked them all to go up to the top floor of the Chabad House, where they remained without anyone being allowed to enter or leave until Shabbos began.

“We were on the top floor for nearly five hours without being able to leave,” said R’ Chaim Elezam, shliach in S. Mande. “Everyone was uptight and we tried to calm people down. We prayed for the welfare of the hostages. Until ten minutes before Shabbos, they did not let us leave the building. The entire area was closed off. My son, who was on his way home from school in the 19th arrondissement, had his bus turn back. He spent Shabbos with my brother-in-law in the 19th arrondissement; it wasn’t possible to enter the area.” 

Minutes before Shabbos began, when the situation was not yet over, the police allowed parents to come and quickly take their children. The police told R’ Elezam that all shuls in the area would be closed and that Shabbos t’fillos would take place only in the big shul which would be under heavy guard.

“The last of the children left and Shabbos began. Since they did not allow me to open the Chabad House, I davened Mincha at home. After Mincha I felt I could not stay at home when an attack like this had happened right nearby. Yet, I was afraid to go to a place where a terror attack occurred, because there was no way of knowing what might develop. I opened a volume of Igros Kodesh; in the letter I opened to, the Rebbe wrote to a person who had a building with a mosad for children. The Rebbe blessed him with many brachos and ended with thanks for the good news. I understood from this that I should go out.

“On my way out, I heard people talking and gathered that security forces had stormed the store and the terrorist was dead. I ran over and on the way I met a neighbor and good friend who is also a mekurav of the Chabad House. He was emotionally overwrought and he told me that his brother-in-law was in the store with his three year old son. The brother-in-law, also a mekurav of the Chabad House, had texted his brother-in-law outside and informed the police about what was going on inside the store.

“Slowly, additional details began to emerge. Since it all happened in the neighborhood, we had the information right away. Yohan Cohen worked in the store almost since the store opened and we all knew him. Yoav Hattab, may Hashem avenge his blood, was also in touch with the Chabad House and for a long time he learned together with R’ Mendel Taieb, the son of the shliach in Vincennes, R’ Yosef Taieb.”

From left to right: Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Francois-Michel Saada

THE AMAZING STORY OF THE JEWISH POLICE OFFICER

When Shabbos was over, reports began to spread to other Jewish communities. The names of those who had been killed were publicized and the unbelievable story of those who were saved in the store began to become known along with dozens of stories of people who almost ended up in the store. The anguish over the deaths of the four men was mixed with joy and thanks to Hashem for the miracles that occurred during the attack. One of those stories was told to Beis Moshiach by R’ Menachem Mendel Koskas, rav of the Noisy-le-Grand community in France, an eastern suburb of Paris.

“One of the members of the community is a police officer whose job is to deal with families of victims in the event of a tragedy. That Friday night, his absence from shul was noted. The next day he came to shul and after the davening he told his story.

“‘The previous days had been very tense for the police,’ said the officer. After the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office and the killing of a policewoman, they were told not to stay in one place so as not to be easy targets. All this made the police force quite nervous.

“Friday morning, he woke up with a very bad feeling. He was not on duty that day and yet he felt as though it was to be the last day of his life. He hugged his little daughter and suggested that they recite T’hillim together. They sat down and read T’hillim.

“When they finished, he felt a lot better. He went out to visit a friend who lived not far away. He spent a long time with his friend and before he left, he mentioned that he was going to shop at the Hyper Cacher kosher store.

“Then something strange happened. The friend began persuading him not to go to that store. ‘Are you nuts? Why are you going all the way there? There is a kosher store that is closer,’ said the friend. ‘I know,’ said the officer, ‘but it’s not that far and I’m used to shopping at Hyper Cacher supermarket every Friday.’ But the friend insisted that he not go there; it was so odd. They argued, and in the end the officer relented and went to the store his friend suggested.

“On his way back from shopping, he passed near the Hyper Cacher store and saw a commotion. He parked his car and joined the crowd. He met his fellow officers and joined them. He waited until they broke into the store. He was the only Jew in a senior position and it was important to him to remain with the police until the situation had ended.

“Immediately after the assault and the release of the hostages, the officer joined those who brought out the bodies in order to ascertain that the evacuation and identification were done according to Jewish law with respect for the dead. During the identification process, he discovered that his uncle was among those killed and he was heartbroken, but he quickly got hold of himself and continued assisting the families of the victims while not forgetting for a moment that he had almost been among the hostages.”

FARBRENGEN AND SEUDAS HODAA

It was first on Motzaei Shabbos that the stories began to pour in and people began to realize the miracle, considering what a bloodbath there could have been with a terrorist armed with two automatic rifles, a gun and a knife, who was locked in with the hostages for five hours.

The story of Rudi Haddad and his friend who worked in the store many years earlier and brought a large group of customers down to the freezer the minute the terrorist entered the store, quickly spread. The two men held a farbrengen to thank Hashem that very Motzaei Shabbos in the offices of the friend’s company. They told their incredible story along with the story of the cashier. The terrorist held a gun to her head, pressed the trigger a few times, but no bullet emerged. And the story of the man who tried parking his car outside the store but someone else got the space, and as he looked for another parking space, the terrorist entered the store. And about the baby who spent five hours in the (turned off) freezer and remained quiet, and dozens of other extraordinary stories.

“Despite the anti-Semitism in France in recent years, this attack caught French Jews by surprise. Nobody expected anything like this to occur,” said R’ Chaim Elezam. “As a result, the shluchim and rabbanim of k’hillos are facing many questions and confusion expressed by many Jews.”

THE ANSWER: AHAVAS YISROEL AND STANDING STRONG

R’ Yosef Taieb, shliach in Vincennes and one of the Chabad rabbanim in Paris, is one of those facing thousands of questioning faces. He has been in touch with shluchim and rabbanim as well as with many Jews of his k’hilla and throughout Paris who want to know how to react.

“First of all, the Rebbe taught us that everything a Jew sees and hears is a lesson in Avodas Hashem. After this attack, we need to see what we ought to learn from it; how does it inform our actions and avoda? That’s the first thing to think about before starting to blame one another, to see how this strengthens our Avodas Hashem.

“Secondly, the most important thing today is to strengthen Ahavas Yisroel, as the Gemara says, ‘This is the entire Torah and the rest is commentary.’

“The Rebbe says that what remains to be done is to greet Moshiach and one of the ways is through Ahavas Yisroel. This refers not only to those who think like us, because that is no great accomplishment, but the chiddush is to also love those who think differently than we do.

“At the same time, Chazal say that Yaakov Avinu prepared himself in three ways, through gifts, prayer and war. We too, along with our spiritual reaction and strengthening our Ahavas Yisroel and Avodas Hashem, need to prepare ourselves in other ways.

“We need to see to proper protection and security, as the Rebbe always says, ‘to stand strongly and firmly.’ So the most disturbing question today, as far as the Jews of France are concerned, is whether the Jews of France are being left unprotected in the hands of Islamic murderers?”

THE WORLD IS BEGINNING TO WAKE UP

And what is the answer?

“The answer is very simple. Chazal said it thousands of years ago on the words of Mishlei, ‘The kindness of the nations is a sin.’ Nothing has changed since then. Although we live in the modern world, we need to know that the world cares only about itself and the country cares only about its own interests.

“That’s the way it was during World War II. The Americans fought the Germans and the entire free world joined the war against the Germans, but they didn’t do it out of love for Jews. They weren’t fighting to save Jews but to protect themselves. One of the proofs is that the same Englishmen who fought the Germans sent back ships of Jewish refugees so they could not enter Eretz Yisroel. You have to be blind and a fool not to see and understand this.

“Fortunately, the world today is starting to wake up. It realizes that it is not only Jews who are in danger but the entire world. Islamic extremists threaten world peace and the French are only now beginning to realize this. The problem is that France is a slow moving country. In the US and Britain, for example, the police are much stronger and operate much quicker. In France, it takes a very long time to launch any initiatives and to make changes in ways of thinking and acting.

“There are entire districts in France, for example, where the police, government officials, and even firemen haven’t entered in years. Even elevator companies are afraid to send technicians there to fix elevators. These areas have turned into no-go zones where gangs rule and crime and drugs are rampant. They are spawning grounds for radicalized Muslims.

“It is only now that the government is starting to slowly realize that it has no choice and must enter these areas and take control. The government also undertook to protect Jewish establishments and shuls. I have spoken to the chief rabbi of France about this before and he told me that he was given a government promise in this matter. All these things were asked for in the past but were not implemented.

“Until now, there was no comprehensive security. Here and there protection was provided for individuals, but even then it depended on all kinds of criteria and pressure exerted. Now they realize that the highest level of security must be delivered. We must do all we can to ensure that they keep their promises without delay.”

R’ Chaim Elezam

R’ Yaakov Bitton

 

 

GETTING BACK TO ROUTINE

As to what was said to the community on Shabbos:

“People came and waited to hear the speech. The main point I stressed, which I repeat at every opportunity, is that we cannot give in to fear. We have to take precautions but cannot panic.

“We are not denying the danger. Anti-Semitism has reared its head and there is danger, but we cannot allow our fear to change our routines. This relates to the spiritual message I conveyed that every event must strengthen us spiritually and materially. If we hide or change our routines in the slightest, that demonstrates weakness and shows that terrorism has won. That is their goal, to sow panic and confusion, so that Jews will be afraid to walk the streets and they will stop shopping in kosher supermarkets. We cannot allow them to win.

“I told the community that the store will reopen soon and we must try to shop there to show support and to demonstrate that nothing changed.

“I absolutely understand the fear; an attack like this is a major upheaval for a community unused to acts of terror as happens too frequently in Eretz Yisroel. It is natural for people to be fearful, for parents to be afraid to send their children out, but I believe that after a few days, life will return to normal, especially if people feel that the government has woken up and a change in the approach to security has begun.

“In Chassidus it explains that the entire world is the effect and we are the cause. The problem starts when we think we are impacted by something else or someone else. The circumstances of our existence are not the outcome of any outside cause. We are the cause and it is all in our hands. We must strengthen our emuna in Hashem and our Ahavas Yisroel, which is the best shield from all those who want to annihilate us.”

R’ Yosef Taieb, shliach in Vincennes

ALIYA IS NOT THE SOLUTION

The Israeli government regularly uses these anti-Semitic attacks to call upon French Jewry to make aliya. Is this the solution?

“Aliya is not the solution. If the Torah would say that all Jews must make aliya, then of course that is what we would have to do, but it says the opposite – that it was a tz’daka that Hashem did for the Jewish people when He scattered them among the nations. There is an advantage to the Jewish people being spread out all over the world. When Moshiach comes, he will gather us all; in the meantime, I don’t think that’s the answer.

“Obviously, someone who feels he wants to make aliya, may he be blessed. We should not stop anyone from making aliya. But as shluchim of the Rebbe our role is to remain here and make sure that every Jew is safe. The answer to terrorism is not to run away but to fight it.

“What we need to do is raise awareness about the state of world Jewry and demand that governments ensure the security of all of their citizens by doggedly and uncompromisingly fighting terrorism. On our part, we need to do all we can to live life normally.”

CONTINUING AND WINNING

Opening a school is the immediate plan in the works for the Chabad House of Vincennes-S. Mande. Until then, they strive to ensure that children have the opportunity to spend as much time as possible at the Chabad House.

“We have a Sunday school and a program on Wednesday afternoons for children who attend public school,” says R’ Elezam. “We also take Jewish children every day for a kosher lunch at the Chabad House. At the end of their school day they come back to us and stay until 6:30 to do their homework, eat a snack, and play.

“Sunday morning after the attack, I was afraid that parents would not want to send us their children. The police had closed all Jewish centers on Shabbos and there was this strong feeling of fear amongst all the parents. I took the list of parents and called them one by one and asked them a simple question: did they want to stop and lose, or continue and win? They all said, ‘We want to win.’ I went out and picked up all the children for the Sunday school. That first day was critical and set the tone. We are moving forward.”

RUNNING AWAY IS NOT THE ANSWER

R’ Elezam also encourages his community as R’ Taieb does.

“We had a shiur for women. It usually takes place in the Chabad House, but this time we did it in a private home. Many women came. They wanted to hear what we had to say about the situation.

“I told them that there are things that G-d does which we don’t understand. If we understood everything, He wouldn’t be G-d. But what is definite is that everything G-d does is good. The Creator wants us to be strong, not weak. Acting with fear is acting from a point of weakness, and it demonstrates a lack of emuna. The most important thing is to not run away.

“There are all sorts of ways of escaping. Some people want to leave France, some want to leave the neighborhood, and some are afraid to go outside with a kippa or to shop in a kosher supermarket. I told them that any sort of running away is weakness and a victory for terrorism; not only that but running away can also hurt a person. This is because when someone runs away, he is not careful. It’s like a child who is scared by a dog and runs into the street. True, a dog can be dangerous, but being hit by a car in the street is even more dangerous.

“The pasuk I repeated a lot in recent days is ‘As they [the Egyptians] afflicted them, so did they [the Jewish people] increase and multiply.’ Nobody will break us. They say, ‘Lest they multiply,’ and Hashem says, ‘They will multiply.’”

 

FROM A GEULA PERSPECTIVE

The world has started to change direction, and once again it begins in France. * RNaftali Estulin, shliach in Los Angeles, illuminates the events in France with the light of preparing for the Geula.

When the worldwide media carried the massive protest in Paris against terrorism, which was attended by dozens of world leaders, and I heard veteran reporters who are used to reporting about big events describing this one as historic, I thought: an event like this must surely be connected to the Geula process that we are in the middle of. We ought to review the Rebbe’s sicha from Parshas VaYeishev 5752 that was devoted entirely to the French Revolution and its central role in the Geula process.

In that unique sicha, the Rebbe explains that during exile we have the avoda of refining the nations of the world. When the job is finished, the Geula will come. After the Rebbe notes that in recent years all the nations of the world have been refined, he focuses on the birur of France which reflects on the avodas ha’birurim of the entire world. In unprecedented lengthiness, the Rebbe devoted the entire farbrengen to discussing France and demonstrated the stage by stage process of the birur of that country.

When we look at France as a country which represents the avodas ha’birurim in the world, all of the recent events look entirely different.

THE UNBELIEVABLE
OCCURRED WHERE? IN FRANCE

What would you have said if you had been told two weeks ago that following a terrorist attack, a massive, worldwide protest against terror would take place, attended by forty heads of state and millions of non-Jews? You probably would have sent the person who told this to you to be examined by a psychiatrist.

It did not happen after four Jews were massacred in a shul in Har Nof; it did not occur after the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers, and not after any terror attack in Eretz Yisroel or other places in the world. Then, the world was indifferent. It is painful to say so, but even the Israeli prime minister did not attend the funerals of the four murdered in Har Nof, nor the funerals of many others murdered in terror attacks in Eretz Yisroel. 

(Not to mention that in Eretz Yisroel, they try to minimize every security breach; the automatic reaction of the security forces to these tragedies is that it was an “accident,” a “criminal case” or a “false alarm,” the main thing being not to have it said that it was a terror attack because then they would have to speak against Arab terrorists.)

But the unbelievable did occur and in France of all places. True, the decision to hold an anti-terrorism march was made after the murder of the journalists, before the attack in the supermarket, but they had not spoken about world leaders attending it. The optimists hoped that a million people would show up, and Thursday night, the march was described as a local event “to demonstrate the national unity of France.” In the media they reported that no official word had been given as to the participation of the French president, Francois Hollande.

It was only from Friday afternoon and on, following the terror attack in the Jewish store in which four Jews were killed, that local outrage over terrorism spilled over and the local march took on new life and turned into a global protest which was attended by presidents and heads of state from around the world. The attack on the Jewish store was definitely the maka b’patish (final blow) that turned the march from a local event to a worldwide protest of historic proportions.

As the case may be, there is no doubt that the worldwide protest referred to all the recent acts of terror in Paris, including the killing of four Jews just because they were Jews. It was in this manner that it was branded into the consciousness of billions of people around the world who watched the live broadcasts from Paris.

THE NATIONS OF THE WORLD
CHANGE THEIR ATTITUDE

In the sicha of Parshas Mishpatim 5752, the Rebbe revealed that Moshiach had begun doing his work in the world, transforming human culture from one that sees wars and killing as something legitimate to one that sees war as a problem and peace as a solution. For example, the Rebbe refers to the meeting of the superpowers for the purpose of limiting nuclear weapons in the world, and said that this meeting, which took place in New York, was the work of Moshiach who is located in New York.

However, despite the progress since 5752 – as research has shown that since the beginning of the 90’s, the number of wars taking place in the world has gone down and the number of those killed in wars has gone down – there is one area where we have not seen progress. That is global terrorism and the terrorism in Eretz Yisroel in particular.

Now the time has come that Moshiach has started to work on the nations, changing their attitudes about terrorism. From an approach of appeasement and even supportiveness they have turned to an approach that abhors terror and rejects it. Obviously, a complete change will take place only with the full hisgalus of the Rebbe MH”M with the fulfillment of the promise, “a nation will not raise a sword against a nation.” However, when we know that behind the scenes there is a major change taking place which the Rebbe is leading, we can certainly point at the millions who marched in France.

Along with the deep sorrow and pain over the shocking murder of four Jews in a Parisian kosher store, we need to open our eyes and see the change in worldwide opinion and realize that the change in attitude is connected with Moshiach’s impact on the nations.

May we know no more sorrow and may this be the last sign of Geula. May we immediately merit the hisgalus of the Rebbe MH”M who will come and redeem us and lead us upright to our land on heavenly clouds!

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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