Jews and France: after the massacres

By Robert Israel

The announcement on January 12 by Jean-Yves Le Drain, the defense minister of France, that 10,000 troops will be deployed to protect “vulnerable areas across the country” offers little comfort for France’s Jewish community, reeling from repeated terrorist attacks over several decades.

The deployment of troops, prompted by the massacre on January 7 of twelve people at the editorial offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and subsequent killings of four hostages — all of them Jews – at a kosher supermarket in suburb Paris a day later, has exacerbated a sense of fear among the nation’s Jewish minority of 600,000. More Jews are expected to quit France for Israel, according to the Jewish Agency, the Israeli government immigration bureau, which last year recorded over 7,000 French arrivals to the Jewish state, more than double the 2013 figure of 3,289.
“French Jews have very close ties to Israel and there is a great sense of solidarity with Israelis,” said Arieh Azoulay, who I interviewed at the Jewish Agency office in Paris when the trend of increased numbers of Jews quitting France was first announced a few years ago. “The increased incidents of terrorism are a catalyst for many French Jews to consider repatriating.”

The Jewish Agency office is housed in a building in a residential neighborhood of Paris, but unless one makes an appointment in advance and is given explicit directions, there is no signage to indicate its location. So, too, is the office of sociologist, author and Jewish activist Shmuel Trigano. I arranged to interview him before my arrival in Paris, but at the appointed date and time, I became lost since it was hidden behind a fortified courtyard.

“Over the years, we have heard the French government call the repeated attacks against Jews a temporary state of emergency,” Trigano told me. “They’ve asked everyone to be on alert. What we are left with is a malaise that has become our way of life.”

Not everyone chooses to live with that sense of malaise, as evidenced by a recent visit to the Marais, where Jews have had a presence for over 800 years. It was here that a popular kosher restaurant, Jo Goldenberg’s, was attacked on August 9, 1982 when two men opened fire, killing six and wounding 22. It closed a couple years ago, and is now a clothing store. The adjacent shops – once kosher bakeries and markets – are now the sites of trendy boutiques. And last week, the Grand Synagogue, on nearby Rue de la Victoire, for the first time since the Nazi occupation of Paris 70 years ago, felt compelled to cancel Sabbath services.

Despite the grim realities, there are those in the Jewish community in France who are calling for French Jews to remain vigilant and join the millions who rallied in the streets of Paris this past week denouncing terrorism.

“Now more than at any other time in its postwar history, the fate of France is entwined with the fate of its Jews,” wrote Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Paris office, for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “If France loses them, sooner or later it will also be lost. Is this the wake-up call that will help the French people understand the nature of the threat to our country, and will they respond firmly and effectively? The very soul of France is at stake.”

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