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On N'est Pas Tout Seul: We Are Not Alone

Posted on 01/16/2015 @ 12:00 PM

Each year, BBYO, the world's leading pluralistic youth movement, sends its two democratically elected teen leaders to meet with their peers in Jewish communities around the world. For four weeks, starting on December 15, Amanda Freedman (Toronto, ON) and Sam Perlen (Nashville, TN) traveled to nine countries across Europe and the Middle East including a stop in Paris, France to meet with their peers there. This is the story of their connection.

Juliette Hochberg is a Jewish teen in France. Even though she lives across the world, we’re more alike than we previously thought. She wears the same kind of clothes we wear, listens to a lot of the same music we listen to and, like us, deals with typical teenage drama.

While all of those similarities connect us, there’s a bigger one that helped us become fast friends in just one weekend when we visited Paris three weeks ago. Juliette belongs to BBYO, the same Jewish youth movement that we belong to, and serves as the president of BBYO France. She’s Jewish just like us.

Juliette taught us French phrases, told us what her everyday life is like and shared popular music with us. By the end of our weekend together, we were arm in arm, laughing and singing - often to the lyrics of a popular French rap song, "On n'est pas tout seul." We are not alone.

Last week, separated again, we watched from a BBYO member's house in Bulgaria as the violence unfolded in Paris. The images of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the tragedy at Hyper Cacher, the kosher supermarket, brought us to tears. If we had not been in Paris only a week before, we would have understood this tragedy only from the perspective of media reports. But now, it touched our hearts in a different way. We reached out to our new friend, and this is what she said:

"People keep asking me this stupid question 'do you feel more French or Jewish?'"

We’re Jewish, and we’re French. Since always. Since Wednesday, we are also Charlie because we want to continue to express ourselves. It’s one of the values that France, our country, taught us and that we use in BBYO, when we write, lead or pray. Since

Thursday, we are Charlie and we are police, because we want to be protected and safe. But, since Friday, we are Charlie, we are police and we are Jewish...

This Shabbat we cried for the loss of four other Jews killed because they were Jewish. Once again [like after the Toulouse murders], we endure the same nightmare, but this time we don't cry alone. That Sunday, the 11th of January, world leaders arrived in Paris to show their support to France, and at the same time, all around the world, the members of BBYO sent us their thoughts and support.

To Jewish teens around the world: Thank you. Thanks for coming, to check with your eyes that we all have the same values. Thanks for your support and solidarity. That solidarity and unity comforted us and made us understand the meaning of that sentence that we heard during the last IC [BBYO's annual International Convention], "home is wherever I am with you."

To Jewish teens in France: do not be afraid of being a French Jew. We are French and we are Jewish. We are many, and yet together, we are one.

We've been united by pain, but we will remain united, more than ever."

The story of the Jewish people is often one of overcoming tragedy and hardships; one of resilience and perseverance. As teen leaders, we are not afraid to dream of a brighter future and we know that pride and hope often go hand in hand. We know that in times of need, creating connection points and extending a helping hand can lift a community when they've been knocked down.

During our visit, those lyrics we sang with Juliette were merely words. But, now, as we look forward to the critical role that we will play in strengthening the Jewish future, we realize that these words may just define what it means to be a part of the global Jewish community. "On n'est pas tout seul." We are not alone.

Juliette and the members of BBYO France are not alone. We share a common heritage, a pride in being a part of something bigger and the commitment to ensuring a brighter Jewish future. We will get through this together as one Jewish community, showing our support to our brothers and sisters in France.

Today, we are connected in more ways than ever before. Through our travels during this year, we've heard lots of languages and experienced many different ways of being Jewish and showing Jewish pride. But, at the end of each week on Shabbat, we all share in the same words and the same hope and pursuit for Shalom, peace.

On n'est pas tout seul.
 We are not alone.

By Amanda Freedman and Sam Perlen, with Juliette Hochberg


Jonah Moore, UK; Sam Perlen, US; Juliette Hochberg, France; Amanda Freedman, Canada

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