New Jersey Jewish News
Rally honors legacy of slain French Jew
Hate is Everyones Problem was the message carried on T-shirts at Brower Commons on the campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick on April 24.
It explained why more than 200 students, public officials, and foreign dignitaries gathered to pay tribute to Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old French Jew who was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in February in what Paris police have officially declared an anti-Semitic act.
The rally was meant to make sure Ilan Halimi did not die in vain, said organizer Danielle Josephs, student president of Rutgers Hillel, in a theme picked up by a number of speakers.
The anti-hatred message was articulated by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who shared the dais with fellow NJ Democrat, Sen. Robert Menendez; Gregory Blimling, Rutgers vice president of student affairs; Reps. Frank Pallone (D-Dist. 6) and Rush Holt (D-Dist. 12); Francois Delattre, consul general of France in New York; and a representative of NJ Gov. Jon Corzine.
Halimi was left for dead in the train station of a Paris suburb on Feb. 13 after being kidnapped and tortured for three weeks by a gang demanding ransom. He died on the way to the hospital. Suspects told police that they tried to kidnap Jews because all Jews are rich, while other reports indicated that some of the suspects said they tortured Ilan with particular cruelty simply because he was Jewish.
Each of the speakers was introduced by a representative of one of the campus organizations reflecting Rutgers ethnic diversity from the United Black Council, Central and South American Alliance, and RU Sikh Association to the Islamic Society.
It is our responsibility not only to remember the vicious crime but also the life of a young Jewish man whose death reminds us of the need to fight hatred and intolerance, Lautenberg declared. We must keep sounding the alarm against anti-Semitism.
The event at Rutgers was the outgrowth of a newspaper story Josephs read a couple of months ago, as she explained before the rally.
I was so horrified and disgusted. I researched it on-line and just became more upset. I felt I couldnt live with myself if I didnt do something to raise awareness of this senseless killing, she said. It left me dumbfounded.
It could have been anyone Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, she said. It could have been me.
In arranging the rally, Josephs said she met with Jean-David Levitte, the French ambassador to the United States. He gave me several tools, ideas to move forward, she said. Then, using her campus contacts, Josephs formed a committee of 50 students.
Characterizing the French governments response to the incident as unprecedented as suggested by the arrest of 15 alleged perpetrators Delattre said, The whole of France is still in shock by what happened. The fact the victim was Jewish has triggered an even stronger and more emotional outpouring.
He also quoted French President Jacques Chirac: An attack against a Jew is an attack against France itself. Anti-Semitism is our common enemy and is in total contradiction with Frances values.
The [rally] initiative crossed all ethnic and religious lines, Josephs said. It spanned the spectrum of diversity. They were all touched by this, really horrified and upset, and helped me mobilize the student body to commemorate [Halimis] life and stand against hate crimes in democratic countries.
Among those so touched were Sami Ermansoury, student adviser to the Muslim community, and Jonathan Wanono, a French Jew and Rutgers senior both of whom commented before the rally.
We must stand with the Jewish community and Ilans family, said Ermansoury. Racism and stereotyping are like a plague or disease. We need to address it and unite no matter what our differences are.
Although he lived in Halimis neighborhood, Wanono said he didnt know him and added, Im very proud of this initiative.
In his comments, Pallone decried allegations of a Jewish conspiracy in connection with the 9/11 terror attacks and lamented that too many people are unaware of facts. We must make them understand why prejudice, hatred, and intolerance are not a good thing and why theories [about] what is going on are not accurate.
We need to have rallies, meetings. We need to have people better educated.
That and more are needed, Holt agreed.
Acts of anti-Semitism anywhere affect us everywhere, he claimed. This is nothing new. It has a pernicious presence across history. It has even surfaced in our own country. We must be careful what we sow, because sooner or later, we will all reap it, he warned.
In a statement read by Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel principal sponsor of the rally Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-Dist. 4 ) suggested that Mr. Halimis death graphically shows that the evil of anti-Semitism still lurks. He was tortured because he was a Jew. We cannot, we must not, deny it.
Speaking as chair of several committees dealing with worldwide anti-Semitism and cochair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Smith noted: The death of Mr. Halimi is part of a greater trend of anti-Semitic attacks I see occurring around the world, including in the United States.
Anti-Semitism is a reality that will not go away, unless we vigorously confront and combat this vile form of hate, both at home and abroad. I salute you for holding this event.
Corzine, in a statement read by Mada L. Liebman, his director of community and constituent relations, thanked the rally organizers for bringing us together to join hands and hearts in acknowledgement of our common humanity and obligation. What you are doing today has tremendous significance and an impact that goes far beyond this campus. More than 60 years after the Holocaust more than 60 years after the world vowed never again, Ilan Halimi was killed because he was a Jew.
Corzine noted that the rally came on the eve of Hillels commemoration of Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
You are living by the precepts of the sage whose name you bear: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?
In her closing comments, Josephs invited attendees to sign a letter addressed to Halimis parents saying that the Rutgers community stands with you and is working actively to preserve Ilans memory.
The letter declares that organizers hope to create a memorial to Halimi at the university, which will include a scholarship/award to be given every year in his memory, as well as a plaque in the Hillel building.
Josephs said Levitte would deliver the letter to the family.
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