Jews join Atlanta solidarity march after French terror

By Michael Jacobs and Jon Gargis

About 400 people silently marched Jan. 11 from Piedmont Park to the Alliance Française in Midtown to show solidarity with France and the victims of a three-day reign of terror, including four Jewish men slain just before Shabbat Jan. 9 at a kosher supermarket.

The Atlanta march echoed similar demonstrations around the world. A Paris march drew an estimated 1.6 million people, among them such foreign leaders as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The highest-ranking U.S. representative was Ambassador Jane Hartley.

Hundreds Walked Sunday at Piedmont Park in support of Paris terror victims

“What we saw in France the other day was an attack on freedom of expression, on democratic values, on a democratic way of life,” American Jewish Committee Atlanta Regional Director Dov Wilker said before the Midtown march. He said people can “see that Muslim extremists are out there to attack our way of life, and I think people want to be unified against that, and I think we truly see that today.”

Calling himself “the trifecta of infidel” by being Jewish, American and gay, march participant Drew Sisselman said: “It stirs emotions, and people want to come together and they want to be together and share and show solidarity.”

The events that stirred those emotions began Jan. 7 when French-born Muslim brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi killed 11 people inside the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Muslim police officer outside. An associate of theirs, Amedy Coulibaly, is believed to have killed a female police officer the next day, then stormed a kosher supermarket, killed Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Francois-Michel Saada and Phillipe Braham, and seized hostages Jan. 9.

The magazine attack sparked wide use in chants, on signs and in hashtags of “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”). The grocery attack brought out a companion phrase, “Je suis Juif” (“I am a Jew”).

“The Jewish community and the French community, standing together, I think is a really powerful statement,” Wilker said.

The three French terrorists were killed in simultaneous standoff-ending assaults Jan. 9.

In response to the grocery killings, Paris’ Grand Synagogue closed that Friday night, the first time since World War II that it was not open for Shabbat.
That decision was a moment of panic, and other synagogues stayed open, Yonathan Arfi, vice president of French Jewish organization CRIF, told CNN. “We will not accept that we have to close any Jewish activities because of terror.”

France, has the third-largest Jewish population in the world, behind Israel and the United States, but last year it became the biggest source of new immigrants to Israel. Israeli officials predicted before the latest attacks that the number making aliyah from France would jump from 7,000 in 2014 to 10,000 this year. Now there is speculation the number will be even higher.

Citing “the strategic importance of the Jewish communities as supporters of Israel in the countries in which they live,” however, the head of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, criticized comments from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israelis encouraging aliyah, Haaretz reported. “Every such Israeli campaign severely weakens and damages the Jewish communities that have the right to live securely wherever they are.”

Israel is the final resting place for the four men slain at Hyperchacher. Their bodies were flown to Israel for a funeral Tuesday. Lassana Bathily, a Muslim employee of the kosher grocery, is credited with limiting the death toll by hiding customers in a walk-in refrigerator.

The conflicting actions of Bathily and Coulibaly reflect the problem that, like members of other religious groups, many Muslims haven’t studied their own religion, Morehouse College sociology professor Mansa Bilal Mark King said.

King distinguishes between fellow Muslims and those who wrongly identify as Muslim. He said terrorism is the work of “Muslim-identified people who in their mind see it as Islam.”

Regardless of the motivation, the rise of French anti-Semitism disturbs the Rev. Ike Reighard of Piedmont Church and MUST Ministries, who was in Paris during the terrorist attacks after a mission trip to Israel. He’s “scared to death for what it means going forward,” he said. The terrorist outburst reminded him of the bombings at the Boston Marathon in 2013. “You saw the same senselessness.”

At Sunday’s march in Atlanta, Susan Bravman said she was disappointed not to see more fellow Jews. “I think people need to have a big awakening. Because while 3,000 people didn’t die the other day, it’s just a signal of what is to come.”

Christina Gillardo of Loganville said she and French Catholic husband Jean-Phillippe brought their three children to the march to show them “that they have the right to walk down the street, say what they want to say, not be afraid to say it, not be afraid to go to church or synagogue or go into the market — that may be kosher or just a normal market — and not be afraid to go shopping, that someone’s going to come in and kill them.”