JERUSALEM, Jan 14 – Israelis and their leaders mourned Tuesday alongside the grieving families of four Jewish men killed by a gunman at a kosher supermarket in Paris last week and buried at an emotional funeral here. Relatives of the victims spoke briefly at the service, in a mixture of French, English and Hebrew, and lighted candles in memory of their loved ones. An uncle called his nephew an angel; a wife said her husband was perfect; a son remembered that his father always wanted to live in Israel.
“He’s here now,” the son said. “This is not how we wanted to welcome you to Israel,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said at the funeral, his voice shaking. “We wanted you alive, we wanted for you life. At moments such as these, I stand before you, brokenhearted, shaken and in pain, and with me stands and cries an entire nation.”
The killings of Yohan Cohen, 20; Yoav Hattab, 21; Philippe Braham, 45, and François-Michel Saada, 64, on Friday at the Hyper Cacher market in Paris by an Islamist militant shook France’s half-million-strong Jewish community, the largest in Europe. It also deeply moved Israelis, and several thousand of them came to the hillside cemetery on the outskirts of Jerusalem where rows of white stone markers met a clear blue sky after a week of rain and snow.
A few mourners held signs with photographs of the victims and the words, “Je suis mort parce que juif,” meaning “I died because I am Jewish.” The four men did not know one another — they were shopping in the same kosher grocery store on a Friday afternoon before the start of the Sabbath — but are now united in death.
They were killed in a hostage standoff at the store, on Paris’s eastern edge, during a three-day wave of attacks by gunmen claiming allegiance to al-Qaida and the Islamic State. They were among 17 people killed in the back-to-back attacks, including 12 at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
At the funeral, Braham’s wife, Valerie, spoke softly in a mixture of French and Hebrew over her husband’s body, which was wrapped in a Jewish prayer shawl, as is customary. “My darling, the love of my life,” she said. “You were perfect. You were someone who always put others first. You were an amazing husband and a father who loved his children and lived for them.”
She added, “I just can’t believe that this has happened.” Energy Minister Ségolčne Royal, representing the French government, told mourners: “The four people were killed because they were Jews. Your pain is our pain, your pain is the pain of France, and we are crying with you. France is suffering just like you.”
Royal promised, “There is no room for anti-Semitism in France — that was the message of millions of people who marched in France on Sunday.” She added, “France is proud to hold the largest population of Jews in Europe.” Royal said the four victims would be posthumously awarded France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur.
Over the weekend, the killings prompted calls from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for European Jews — and, in particular, French Jews — to immigrate to Israel in the face of rising anti-Semitism, comments that some in France deemed divisive.
In an interview with the Atlantic monthly last week, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that if 100,000 French Jews left his country — one-fifth of France’s Jewish population — “France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.”
Last year, 7,000 French Jews moved to Israel, official Israeli figures show, and the country already has a sizable French population. The figure is now forecast to double this year. At the funeral, Netanyahu said world leaders he met Sunday in Paris understood, “or at least are beginning to understand, that the terrorism of radical Islam is a real and tangible threat to peace and the world in which we live.”
Rather than be buried in France, the families of the four men, who were not Israeli citizens, asked that they be buried in Israel, in one of its largest cemeteries, Har Hamenuchot, just a mile from parliament. It is not unusual for Jews who have lived outside Israel their entire lives to ask to be buried here, but some family members of the slain men expressed fears that if they were buried in France, their graves could be desecrated, news reports said.
“Jews in France are scared,” said Marc Buchwald, a close family friend of Saada, a retired pension fund manager. “People are thinking about leaving.” Buchwald, who traveled to Israel from Paris overnight with the family, said his friend’s widow will probably move to Israel now. “She has nothing left in Paris,” he said. Pascale Mimouni, a relative of Philippe Braham, who worked as a computer engineer, said the family was in shock.
“Their whole life has changed,” she said. “But it is also a concern for the whole world.” Nathan Levi, who attended the funeral, said he had met Hattab two weeks ago when the 21-year-old Tunisian, who was studying in Paris, came on an organized trip to Israel. “He was madly in love with Israel,” Levi said. “He planned to move to Israel when he completed his studies. And now he is gone. But he is here, too.”