In the impassioned plea for social justice you made in an address to Kenyan lawmakers in Nairobi last week, you asserted that “violence, conflict and terrorism…are fueled by fear and desperation…born of poverty and frustration.”
Yet nothing, not even desperation, can justify terrorism.
The roots of terrorism lie only in hatred-based education. We Jews have a lot of experience with desperation. But our history shows other more constructive ways out of it. Desperation has never been a justification for Jews to commit violent acts in the name of our religion.
We have been paraded through the streets of Rome in chains while our Sanctuary in Jerusalem was in flames. We have been thrown into amphitheaters where hungry lions and spectators waited for our blood. We have been burnt in autos-da-fé, we have been called marranos, our candle lighting and prayers in our ancestral tongue have been banned. We have been expelled from Spain. We have wandered through many countries looking for a new home.
We have been massacred in pogroms, our synagogues sacked, our children enlisted in armies from which they never came back. We have been deprived of our right to work, to own, to vote, to speak. We have been robbed of that dignity which every human being should enjoy by right when he is born.
Our gold teeth were torn from our mouths and our arms branded as if we were animals for the slaughterhouse. We have been told for centuries ‘go back to your homeland’ and now that we are home they tell us ‘get out of there’.
We Jews are an indissoluble part of the historical fabric of our world. The Jewish presence is the common thread in most of the countries on the globe. In every placewhere we arrived on this earth, we produced poets, mathematicians, physicists, writers, politicians, scientists, doctors, inventors. Even when we were closed in ghettos we have never stopped writing, thinking, discussing, producing good. We have never put our lives on standby, not even for a little while.
Despite all this, we have not been covering our heads with ashes for thousands of years. We loaded our destiny onto our shoulders and bound our ancestors’ heritage to our hearts and we went searching for a new place where we could breathe again.
If you have been taught that every instant on this earth is the biggest richness you own, and that life is the most precious gift you received when you were born, there is neither the time nor the will to wallow in self pity. And there is no room for resentment.
We returned, without our parents, our brothers, our children, our husbands and wives, to Germany, Italy andFrance. We stood beneath the windows of our homes looking in at strangers now living in places that belonged to us before the war. We rolled up our sleeves, revealing numbers stamped with fire on our arms, and we started everything again from scratch.
Countries interested in migration waves should study Jewish history and our integration model. In every new place we arrived, we had our golden rule: Never slip on your tears.
We have not waited around for compassion from the countries that opened their borders for us. We tried from the very start to integrate ourselves in the social fabric of the place that was hosting us. And while thanking them, we contributed our talents to development and progress, ours and theirs.
There are those who use desperation as a justification for murdering innocents. And there are those who put aside desperation, locking it in the memory drawer, and try to climb back to the top, focusing on new opportunities.
Dear Pope Francis, Secretary John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and hundreds of world influencers who are looking for a reason, for a motif, behind the transformation of individuals into lethal splinters. Even if you delved into the personal, tragic lives of these killers (though in most cases they live at exactly the same standard as those in the society around them), even if it was really like this, nothing, NOTHING, can justify an act of blind violence against another human being. Nothing, nothing, can give the right to one individual to deprive another of his tomorrow. Looking for justifications means only one thing: preparing the soil for the next brutal act, G-d forbid.
History has never mistreated a nation more than it has mistreated the Jewish people. But everywhere that the wind of hate has transported us, we integrated, we learned the local language, reciting by heart Whitman, Eliot and Dickinson. We invented the pareve cheesecake. Integration is something you have to want and work at every single day.
We have never asked the place that hosted us to adapt itself to our rules. “Dina demalchuta dina” — the law of the land must become your law too — says the Talmud. Real integration, even for the most desperate people, can be realized. But it depends, first and foremost, on values transmitted by the religion, families and teachers of those who have just arrived. And it depends on the will to become part of society in a constructive and positive way.
Gheula Canarutto Nemni is a (Jewish) educator and novelist living in Milan, Italy.
Her most recent book is (Non) si puo avere tutto—You Can[‘t] have it All,