Every year for the past nine years, the Jewish Agency has held a special ceremony on Memorial Day to remember the victims of anti-Semitic attacks outside of Israel, along with the fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks inside Israel. The ceremony was particularly emotional and relevant this year, following anti-Semitic attacks in Paris and Copenhagen just a few months ago.
The Memorial Day ceremony on Wednesday morning, held in the plaza of the Jewish Agency headquarters in Jerusalem, honored the four victims of the January attack at the Hyper-Cacher supermarket in Paris – Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab and Francois-Michel Saada - as well as Dan Uzan, who was killed the following month in Copenhagen, while he was guarding a synagogue.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said that the events of the past year made it clear that the struggle for Jewish survival continues far from Israel’s borders.
“This year we learned that the battlefield is not just on the borders of Israel, but everywhere there are Jews,” he said. “This year we learned again that it’s not just Israeli territory that is a target, but every Jewish school in the world, every synagogue, even every kosher supermarket. So as we do every year, we call out the names of Jews who have been killed. And sadly, more names have been added to this list.” Also recalled at the event were Emanuel and Miriam Riva, an Israeli couple who were killed in a shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last May, while on holiday in Belgium.
“It is only because we have a strong weapon that we survive,” Sharansky said. “We have the IDF, but we also have another kind of weapon, an unconventional weapon, called the solidarity of the Jewish people. We have aliyah [immigration to Israel]. Our answer is communities which are safer and stronger. We don't want any Jew anywhere in the world to feel alone and powerless.”
Valérie Braham spoke quietly and movingly of a family devastated when her husband, Phillipe Braham, was killed in January. The attack on the market where he was doing his pre-Shabbat shopping was perpetrated by Amedy Coulibaly, who in a series of videos swore fealty to the Islamic State (ISIS) and said he worked in concert with Sad and Chérif Kouachi, brothers who killed 11 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly paper two days earlier.
“This hatred of Jews came into my home and destroyed my family. It also hurt every family in the whole Jewish people. On this Memorial Day, how is it possible for me to forget that dear person who I lost, in an act that left me with just anger and pain in my heart? How is it possible to continue to be, to continue without them?” Braham told the crowd, many of whom had tears in their eyes.
“Nothing will ever be as it was. I try to be strong for my children, there’s no alternative. My children ask me every day, ‘Where is Aba?’ I try to find the strength to tell them what a great father they had, how much he loved them, and that now he’s watching them from above,” said Braham, who came as a guest of the Jewish Agency but left her three young children, ages 8, 3 and 2, back in France. “I have family and relatives that help me, but there is also a feeling of being alone. But today, no. Today, we are all here with the same pain.”
After the ceremony, Braham told Haaretz that the situation of Jews in Paris felt worse than ever before. “It doesn’t feel any safer from the government having placed extra security forces around us,” she said. “There are soldiers posted across from the entrance to the synagogue and the schools, but that doesn’t give you a feeling of being secure at all. Every step I take, I look left and right. I can’t let my children walk on the street with a kippa on – it’s very different now.”
Sergeot (Mordekhai) Uzan, the father of Dan Uzan, a 37-year-old guard who was killed in Denmark, also spoke passionately in his son’s memory.
“In the Ten Commandments there are ‘don’t do’s.” It teaches us that we need to choose to say no, no to prejudice, to hatred, to violence, to corruptionand to say yes to the contract of democratic freedom. My son was living according to these principles. His messagewas that evil will be stopped by the good in the hearts of others. My hope is that the democratic world will unite and find its way to bring us together so that the world can live in peace.”
Signe Biering Nielsen, Denmark’s deputy ambassador to Israel, was one of many who laid a wreath at a column with the names of approximately 200 victims of anti-Semitic attacks outside of Israel since 1948. “We lost two Danes on the day of that attack and it drove home to all Danes that the Jewish community of Denmark is very much part of us – we don’t see them as separate. Danish and Israeli history is intertwined. Being part of this ceremony was very moving for me because this is a loss for Israel, but for us, you’re also mourning our dead.”