On Friday and Saturday, Jews wish one another Shabbat Shalom—a peaceful sabbath. The sabbath and peace are supposed to be inextricably linked. And at least some subscribe to Ahad Ha’am’s proverbial view that “More than the Jewish people have kept the sabbath, the sabbath has kept the Jews.” Thus the terror and violence that claimed the lives of Yohan, Yoav, Phillipe and Francoise-Michel were an attempt to sever the link between shalom and Shabbat, was an attempt to turn that which keeps the Jews into that which kills Jews. That’s the work that “an appalling anti-Semitic act” (what French President Hollande called this terror attack) intends—it tries to turn choosing a Jewish life into a death sentence.
To forestall further harm to Parisian Jewish life, French authorities closed the Rue des Rosiers, a street in the heart of the Marais district and still home to many Jewish businesses. The police also closed the Grand Synagogue of Paris. News sources reported that this is the first time since World War II that this sacred space did not welcome the Sabbath Bride. Contemporary anti-Semitism in Europe can’t help but bring with it the specter of Holocaust history, but this particular historical footnote resonates more than usual.
I began writing this on Shabbat from Austin, Texas. Obviously, the previous sentence indicates that I’m not shomer Shabbat. However, more often than not, I do keep the sabbath by meeting with a group of smart and mouthy Jewish women. We talk books and movies—many of them Jewish-themed; we share highlights from the different Torah studies that some of us have attended; we kibbitz about local and international politics; we share the joys and the trials of our everyday lives; and yes, we sometimes exchange recipes. Last sabbath, a rare ice storm kept us from meeting, but we were in close virtual touch.
So last week I kept the sabbath and chose Jewish life by counting the blessings associated with Jewish feminist community, by striving to keep at least some of the 613 commandments, and by remembering Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Phillipe Barham, and Francoise-Michel Saada, may their memory be for a blessing.
Helene Meyers is Professor of English and McManis University Chair at Southwestern University. She is the author, most recently, of Identity Papers: Contemporary Narratives of American Jewishness and is working on a book about Jewish American cinema. For Lilith, she has written “Jewish Calendar Talk,” “Yentl, Me, and 1983,” and “Memory and Teshuva: A Review of October Mourning.”