Chicago mourns Paris terror victims

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On January 14, some 250 gathered at the Chicago Loop Synagogue to commemorate the deaths of Jewish and other victims of the January 2015 anti-Semitic attacks in Paris. (Watch a video of the full service)

“Together, we mourn the 17 innocent lives lost last week in the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris. Our hearts and prayers go out to their families and loved ones, and we share in their grief,” said Skip Schrayer, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, which convened the Community Memorial Program for Victims of Paris Terror Attacks.

Steven B. Nasatir, president of JUF, issued a “call for solidarity” in his remarks to theattendees.He recalled visiting the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue in Paris last July, “which two days before had been attacked by a vicious mob armed with steel rods and knives, chanting ‘Death to the Jews,’” as well as the murders at a Jewish school in France in 2012.
(Watch a video of Nasatir's speech)

“For too long, too many people chose to ignore…the signs of a threat faced not just by Jews but by the democracies of the world, with our belief in freedom,” Nasatir said. “It is the threat posed by the growing groups of violent Islamist extremists, the ideology they espouse, and the followers they attract.” He said that marches like the “breathtaking” one in Paris January 11 were “important expressions of solidarity” and were appreciated. But, he wondered, “Will they mark a turning point in the war against Islamist terror, inspiring…greater understanding from governments and citizens of what is at stake?” He closed by praying for a New Year with “no more memorial events.”

Jewish, Muslim and Catholic clergy also spoke. Rabbi Yona Reiss, Chief Judge of the Rabbinic Court of the Chicago Rabbinic Council, read Psalm 121, and said, “We honor the victims… by our commitment to freedom.”

Imam Hazim Fazlic of the Islamic Cultural Center of Greater Chicago and professor at Lake Forest College, offered a Muslim prayer. He then said that the idea that the terror attacks were part of a struggle between one “religion, civilization, or culture” against another was false, but that the battle was between “evil terrorists and humanity.”

Father Thomas Baima, Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Archdiocese of Chicago, read Psalm 91. He then relayed the words of Pope Francis, who upon learning of the attacks, called them “cruel” and denounced all terrorism, “isolated or state-sponsored.” The Pope said that he would pray for the victims, but also “for those who are cruel, so that the Lord may change their hearts.”

Rabbi Stanley Kroll, of the Chicago Loop Synagogue, which hosted the event, referred to the terrorists as “cowards,” and “anti-Semites who reject freedom,” striking with “the hand of pure evil.” Those who “inject violence” into society, he said, “will not succeed.” He noted that in addition to those killed, there were also 11 injured, and he prayed for their recovery. “Am Yisrael Chai,” he said, “Vive la France.”

Rabbi Shoshana Conover of Temple Sholom, read “The Diameter of a Bomb,” a poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. Cantor Steven Stoehr, Congregation Beth Shalom, sang a traditional Jewish prayer of mourning, “El Ma’ale Rachamim (God, Full of Mercy).”

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 JUF President Dr. Steven B. Nasatir addresses attendees at the Jan. 14 memorial program. (Photo by Robert F. Kusel )

Also in attendance were leaders of Chicago’s diverse faith communities: Executive Vice President of the Chicago Board of Rabbis Rabbi Michael Balinsky, Reverend Stanley Davis, Reverend Paul Rutgers, Reverend Larry Greenfield, Father Don Senior, and Ms. Barbara Abrajano— all representing the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago— and Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid of the Parliament of the World Religions.

Balwant Singh Hansra of the Sikh Religious Society was unable to attend, but forwarded a letter which read: “On behalf of the Sikh Community of Greater Chicago, we express our heartfelt sympathies to you... and we condemn this brutal killing. Our sincere condolences to the bereaved. ...we stand in solidarity with the Jewish community.”

Civic and diplomatic leaders in attendance included Roey Gilad, Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, staff from Governor Bruce Rauner and Congressman Bob Dold’s offices, Alderman Michele Smith, and former Congressman Brad Schneider.

Reflections on the attacks were also offered by François Pellerin, Deputy Consul General of France in Chicago. “France— its values and its citizens— were attacked,” The attack was against “journalists for expressing themselves… and Jews because they were Jews,” he said. He noted that France has the largest Jewish population of any European nation, and that Jews have been “part of the fabric of France… for centuries.” He also thanked the Jewish community of Chicago and said that the rallies in Chicago echoed those in France, at which French citizens held banners reading “Je Suis Juif” (I am Jewish).

David Benkemoun, a young professional from Paris working in Chicago, and Natalie Braun, a Chicagoan who has studied at theLycée Français de Chicago, read the names of the victims of the January 7-9 attacks. The victims included 12 staff members of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, four hostages at a kosher supermarket in Paris, and a Paris police officer attempting to apprehend one of the magazine-attack terrorists.

“When your country is shaken to its roots, and your loved ones are afraid for their lives, and you are far away, you feel alone,” Benkemoun said. He thanked those in attendance for helping him alleviate that feeling: “Thank you. Todah. Merci.”

Donations to JUF’s French Terror and Security Fund— to be given to the families of the victims and to help increase security at Jewish institutions in France— can be made here:

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