A look at one of the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks and how his life connects three cultures.
The name, Yoav Hattab, might not be familiar to you. He happened to be one of the four murdered hostages at the kosher supermarket, Hyper Cacher, (The other victims were Yohan Cohen, Philippe Braham, and François-Michel Saada.)
That attack was connected with earlier carnage on the offices of a satirical magazine which left 12 people dead and 11 others wounded.
When terrorist Amedy Coulibaly stormed into the suburban market, he knew only that it was a Jewish-owned. That was enough of a target as far as he was concerned. In his mind, as in the minds of all terrorists, his victims had no families, no friends, and no histories.
So. like the priest in The Bridge of San Louis Rey, I wanted to take a moment to look at the life and the death of this stranger who became a victim.
The most tragic aspect of the supermarket attacks- as with terrorism in general- was its random nature. The fact that location was a target was random. The victims too were random. The only real linkage, from the attackers' point of view, was that the workers and the customers were most likely to be Jewish.
In Hattab's case, that's only half of the story.This 21-year-old man was not French but from the predominantly Muslim Tunisia. He had been living in Paris while completing his graduate degree in international business studies. He was clearly not afraid of life and was preparing himself for an interesting productive life.
Moshe Uzan, a 25-year-old friend, told one reporter that Yoav's character set him apart."There are those who stand back and watch their lives. But he, he played an active role."
The last moments of Yoav Hattab are not quite clear. Perhaps we will never learn the whole story.
However, it was reported that Hattab was murdered when he attempted to repel the hostage taker.
Yoav's father learned that his son had died while trying to overcome the terrorist. According to Rabbi Hattab, his son hid in a freezer but was forced to leave his hiding spot after the terrorist threatened to kill everyone if those who hid did not join the rest of the hostages.When Yoav left the freezer, he found a weapon; however when Yoav tried to fire the weapon it did not budge – and the terrorist shot him.
One witness, using only the name Sophie, described the events for Europe 1 radio. She said that one young man had managed to get hold of a gun when Coulibaly put it down for a moment. He tried to turn it on the attacker.
"A young man took the assault rifle and wanted to shoot him," but Coulibaly "was faster and he shot him in the throat. The poor young man just fell,"
(There's some question whether the young man of the heroic act was actually Yoav Hattab or Yohan Cohen. Does it matter in the end? Either way, it was daring and it was a bold act of defiance, worthy of our respect.)
"I knew that my son worked in the area and I called his phone but he didn't answer. I knew he was there."
As it turned out, the outcome could not have been more heart-breaking or cruel. While his friends and family watched the footage of the hostages being released, they believed that Yoav was one of the survivors. One friend reported:
"We said: 'That's him, that's Yoav!' before the bad news struck."
His father explained:
At 6:30 pm they called and said he was okay. At 7 pm, I said I wanted to talk to him and they said 'wait a bit.' At 10 pm, they told us he had died."
In fact, it is not the first time a member of the Hattab family has died at the hands of terrorists. Before Yoav was born, his aunt was killed during an October 8th, 1985 attack on a synagogue on the island of Djerba in Tunisia. She was only 14 years old at the time.
A Jewish Hero
On a chilly Tuesday afternoon, Yoav (along with the other Jewish victims) was buried in Israel in a special ceremony. Thousands, including political leaders, turned out in force to the state funeral at the Givat Shaul Cemetery in Jerusalem.
The state of Israel provided the funds for the funerals, as well as the families' travel and hotel expenses. A Jewish agency and private individuals paid for all other costs.
As crowds gathered to pay their respects, helicopters circled and soldiers stood guard among the headstones. There were fears that the funerals could be an opportunity for yet another terrorist attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the terrorists:
"These are not only the enemies of Israel; they are the enemies of the world, and the time has come that all civilized people should come together and should uproot these enemies from amongst us."
Hattab's was there at his son's graveside but found it difficult to speak. He did say that he accepted "judgment of heaven with love."
"Yoav, you were here, just two weeks ago in Jerusalem, for the first time. You stood at the Western Wall, you were photographed wrapped in the national flag. Today, you are here for the second, and the final time. You return as a Jewish hero, at one with us.
Although the four men will be buried in Israel, Israel will not officially recognize them as victims of hostilities because they are not Israeli citizens. In Tunisia, Hattab was, as the son of a rabbi that run the capital's Jewish school widely known among the 1,500 members Jewish community.
The Tunisian Hero
Back in Tunisia, Yoav's many Muslim friends were could not understand why he was buried there. He belonged to them, they believe, and he belonged to their nation too.
On a Facebook page set up by Hattab's friend, one of them writes:
Another of his friends wrote:"Tunisia is the land of our ancestors, we could have gone to the funeral of one of us and paid our respects. Instead, tomorrow it'll be strangers in Israel who gather around his grave, may his soul be blessed."
"You are the magnificent Tunisian that we will treasure forever. Rest in peace."
Another Muslim friend writes:
"The Tunisian Jews are an important part of our society, and are our brothers."
A photo of the victim shows him proudly holding up his dye-stained finger, proving that he had voted in Tunisia's first democratic election.
The October elections there has sparked great hopes for Tunisia's future. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in 2011 and spread throughout the Islamic world. When experts were still questioning whether any democratic reform would ever happen in the Muslim world, Tunisia was proving to the world that free and fair elections were indeed possible. Despite all of the problems and uncertainties, after the successful elections in Tunisian, things were looking a little more hopeful. By voting, Yoav was a part of that.
Alas, because of the insane and pointless events in Paris, that brighter and freer future for the country will not include Yoav Hattab.
The Chain of Sorrow
Whenever I read the news of good people dying young and dying pointlessly. I recall a John Prine song. For me the lyrics capture that bitter feeling of frustration we feel at a senseless tragedy like this:
You can gaze out the window get mad and get madder,
Throw your hands in the air, say, "What does it matter?"
But it doesn't do no good to get angry,
So help me I know
For a heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
Chain of sorrow.
A single life really does make so many connections. In Hattab's case, his life connected three different cultures, Tunisia, Israel and France, and his death (and the deaths of the other victims in the Paris attacks) connected the whole world.
And that, perhaps, offers us the tiniest bit of hope in the midst of this tragedy. The only thing that allows us to escape the despair and the chain of sorrow, blame and anger.