On the Ground in France with the JFNA Solidarity Mission

Sunday, February 8

Merci. I am trying to capture the gist of what is being said.
 
We started out at La Victoire Synagogue, the largest in France, built in 1874 with the financial support of the Rothschild family. It has been, and remains the center of Jewish life in Paris, good and bad. It is a magnificent structure, comparable to the churches in Europe we all visit.
 
Tali Ohayon, who is coming to GMW, spoke about security. She said everyone has to be involved and taught to recognize that the terrorist could be living right next door. The government seems more committed to security, and we saw armed police/soldiers around places we visited. Comforting and unnerving at the same time.

Alan Hoffman, Director General of JAFI, spoke to us at the Aliya Fair, and two graduates of MASA talked about their experiences. One has made Aliyah and one is back in school in France. We visited the fair which is an opportunity for young people (today's was aimed at young people but there are many now) to learn about programs in Israel and about making Aliyah. There were hundreds of kids. I didn't poll them to find out why each one was there.
 
Went to the Hyper Cacher supermarket – just an ordinary market right outside of Paris proper where the rent is cheaper and so are the prices. It is now closed, probably forever. We lit candles, laid a wreath, said Yizkor and Kaddish – something we do at too many places. We then sang Hatikvah – picture 50 people standing on the street in front of the market. As we were getting on the bus Richard Bernstein said he was thinking where di he felt safer - standing there singing or in Sderot. Sderot won. Watch video from Day 1.
 
We heard from the president of the Consistoire, the oldest Jewish organization in France (established by Napoleon) which supervises all religious Jewish life in France (95% Orthodox), the Vice President of CRIF (the representative council of French Jewry) which is the umbrella organization that represents the Jewish community and affiliated organizations to the government and the rest of the world, the chair of the United Jewish Social Foundation which oversees educational, social and cultural initiatives, and the president of the French Student union.
 
They all indicated that the situation is bad and the government has recognized this. They are providing heavy security at Jewish day schools, synagogues, and other Jewish facilities, but that will not last forever. There is a need for everyone to recognize the problem of anti-Semitism and a need for solidarity with other Jewish communities. They are a community living in crisis, in a country in crisis. It was said that France is the laboratory of a new Jewish situation.
 
I found the day informative, depressing in many ways, and exhausting.

Bonne Nuit
Maxine


Monday, February 9

I left the hotel at 7:15 AM to go to the foreign ministry offices to meet Giles Clavreul, Inter-ministerial Delegate For the Fight against Racism and anti-Semitism. Very young man. In recognizing the problems that face France, he has prepared a road map that has been submitted to President Hollande and will be presented to the National Assembly for a vote. He said the feeling was that the "contemporary" form of anti-Semitism started 15 years ago with the second Intifada. (When visiting the Israeli ambassador later he disagreed.) He feels that we have to find a way to control false postings (holocaust denial) on the internet within the bounds of free speech. He said soldiers will continue guarding Jewish institutions as long as necessary because protecting Jewish sites is a priority. On the ground in France, day 2 video.

Then it was on to the oldest Jewish school in Europe – Lucien Hirsch School. The school goes from two-year olds through high school. We arrived at recess so there was the normal chaos of kids enjoying being outside. We met with four older students, some of whom said they thought they would wind up in Israel. Close your eyes and you are in any one of our day schools, except for the armed soldiers who greet you at the door, many of whom sleep in the school at night. How difficult for these children. What do you tell a five year old?

Went to the JCC where the situation is similar.

Had lunch at the home of the Israeli Ambassador Yossi Gal. This past year has been extremely difficult because of the rise of anti-Semitic incidents and the deterioration of the Israel/French relationship (vote for Palestinians). He did say that he does not doubt the French government’s commitment to its Jewish population and that France has been the strongest against a nuclear Iran. He was very appreciative of our visit and is encouraging people to come to France to identify with the Jewish community, one in a state of anxiety.
 
Group actually had a half hour quick bus tour in Paris, truly a beautiful city.

Met the American ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, who said she was impressed with the French government since the January attacks.

Heard from several speakers including Ghaleb Bencheikh, a Muslim, and Rabbi Michel Serfaty, chair of the Judeo-Muslim friendship association. They are working together to try to understand each other's communities. He was asked if others in his community agreed with him and we all want to know if there is other support from within their community.
Finally, farewell dinner and final speaker – Sandy Charabi, one of the hostages at Hyper Casher. She told her harrowing story and how she was able to communicate with her fiancée who is a policeman. He was able to give police information from within the supermarket.

Much to think about over the next few days, but this trip brought a new closeness with the French Jewish community and I think it made us realize the need to be in touch with Jewish communities throughout Europe. The Jewish community has always been an integral part of the life of France (President Hollande said, "France without its Jews would not be France") The members of the French Jewish community continuously expressed their thanks for making them feel that they are not alone.

One question asked many times – Do we consider ourselves "American Jews" or "Jewish Americans?" In France it seems to always be "French Jews." Je suis Juif.

JS Bin

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