Crying out as one. In anger and pain, in disbelief and shock and sadness. In solidarity and strength. In protest. Crying out for justice and peace, crying out against injustice and violence and hatred. One million voices. United as one, but at the very same time each one different from the other. Different nationalities, faith traditions, ethnicities, ages, hair and skin colors, the old and the young, the short and tall, the Jew, Christian, Muslim, the French, German, American, Israeli, Canadian, Palestinian.
There are moments that shake us out of our reverie, that remind us of our common humanity and reinforce the idea that we are all connected, all responsible for each other. The events in Paris struck that kind of chord. In a way we sense we are all threatened, that we had all been attacked. What is the slogan that has been chanted, put on shirts and stickers, hash tagged? Je suis – I am! I am Charlie Hebdo, I am a Jew, I am the person who was attacked. It was me! And so we all felt the urge to respond, to come together, to show by example that goodness in the human heart triumphs over evil, that kindness and caring and decency can not be overcome by hatred and insanity. One million people marched in Paris. How many other’s hearts were there with them?
What do they want, these misguided, delusional God-deniers? The target of the terrorists was freedom, and perhaps that is why the response has been so resounding. Such a core value in our cultures and our lives. It wasn’t a satirical magazine that was attacked, it was freedom of speech, freedom of expression, the freedom to write and think and share and debate ideas. It wasn’t a Jewish grocery store that was attacked, it was freedom of religion, the choice we should all have to worship (or not to worship) in the way we want. Commonly when freedom is attacked, the Jews are an early target. We are often vulnerable, small in number yet high on the radar screen, and perhaps in some way we represent freedom in an ideal form. Freedom is a core value of our tradition, even our story of origin, our founding myth, is that we escaped from עבדות לחרות, from slavery to freedom. In a sense our core story holds out the possibility of freedom to all people in all places.
It was a march, and I like that image, how it works as a metaphor. Movement, pushing back, retaking territory. We mourn our losses, comfort bereaved families and communities, but then we move forward with strength and resolve. Heschel once famously said after marching with Martin Luther King Jr. that he felt he was praying with his feet. The march in Paris was a kind of prayer, but it was also a call to action. We walk on the road together, taking care of one another and deciding which direction we should go, where we should turn, where stop to rest, how to allocate our resources. But wherever we go, we are closer than we were before, and therefore both stronger and more human. As we journey together, may we only go from strength to strength.