Last Shabbat, my wife Karen was out of town. Close friends, unwilling to let yours truly endure a Shabbat dinner alone, invited me for the Friday night meal.
Also present was a family from Los Angeles: a physician, his mother and his two daughters.
The physician, Dr. M., was born on the Tunisian island of Djerba, but his family immigrated to France in the 1960s because of Arab Muslim persecution of Jews.
“How long was your family in Tunisia?” I asked.
“Since the destruction of the Second Temple,” said Dr. M.
The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.
“Was it hard for your family to pick up and leave?”
“We had no choice.”
A few minutes later, Dr. M’s mother, an elegant lady with a distinct je ne sais quois, mentioned that French police with machine guns had been stationed at the entrance to her apartment building in Paris.
“To protect you?”
“No, to protect a Muslim who is an outspoken anti-jihadist.”
“Do Jews have a future in France?” I asked.
“No, no, no,” she said. “You should see the streets of Paris. The Muslims are everywhere. It is not safe for Jews. And the French people are… what is the word?”
She spoke in rapid-fire French to her son, Dr. M.
He translated: “The French people are intimidated.”
“So what will you do?” I asked her.
“We have no choice.”
So this ancient and proud Jewish family, which had lived in Tunisia for two millennia, were forced out in two generations by Arab Muslim Jew-hatred — and then left their adopted country, France, for the same reason.
For a moment, I was sad. Certain tides of Jewish history repeat themselves with hardly a murmur of protest from the so-called civilized world.
Dr. M. began singing a Shabbat song to an ancient Sephardic melody. We all joined in as we sat around the table laden with homemade challah and traditional Shabbat delicacies, bathed in the light of the Shabbat candles.
I realized in a stunning rush of clarity that no matter how many lands we are forced to abandon, on Shabbat we Jews are truly at home, at G-d’s table.