A couple of weeks ago I was with my daughter in Paris on the way to Israel and managed to get a sense of the mood of the French Jews in the silence before the recent terrorist storm. One could sum up the mood with one word: “FEAR.” I was the only person walking around the famed Marais Jewish district with a Kippah. Down the road was the parade ground in the Morlan Court of the Military School where just over a hundred years previously a massive crowd shouted, “La-mort-aux-Juifs!” (Death to Jews!) at the unfortunate Alfred Dreyfus (and his co-religionists). Things haven’t changed much in the ensuing years in the land of “Liberte, Égalité, Fraternité” for our Jewish brothers and sisters.
Just as the Jews of France were targeted in the “Vel d’Hiv Roundup” during the Shoah, in which 13,000 French Jews, including thousands of children, were herded into a Paris cycling stadium, formally known as the Vélodrome d’Hiver, by French police acting on Nazi orders where thousands of Jews were held for several days and eventually deported to Auschwitz. (It took the French authorities 53 years to acknowledge their role in the arrest and deportation of their Jews), they are still targeted for the “crime” of being Jewish.
“Monument for the Vel d’Hiv Roundup.” (Photo (c) T. Book ,2015)
We walked past a Jewish school and saw THREE lines of security around it including armed French police and a private Israeli security team. I saw people kissing cement doorposts with no visible Mezuzah attached, until someone informed me that the Jews scoop a hole out, insert a Mezuzah scroll in the space, and then refill it with cement so no one will notice this obvious sign of Jewish presence! There were armed soldiers on patrol in the streets and the ELAL counter at the airport was extremely heavily protected.
“The Streets of Paris.” (Photo (c) T. Book, 2015)
I know Jews who emigrated from France and they told me that they felt that their lives were literally in danger. Everywhere their children went; to their Jewish school, to their youth movement meeting, to synagogue services they had to be escorted in groups with guards. Jews do not venture out wearing external signs of Judaism, such as kippot or Jewish themed jewelry. To live and die in France as a Jews is an empty and barren experience, containing only sadness and regret.
Now if this was the 1930’s, when there was “no where to run and nowhere to hide” I could understand, but there is a place to raise ones children with dignity and without fear. There is a place where one can stand proud and tall and declare “Je suis Juif!” That place is the “hope of two thousand years, the land of Zion.”
This past summer in the midst of “Operation Protective Edge” I vividly recall listening to a new Olah (immigrant) from France being interviewed upon her arrival to Israel and asked if she was scared. She answered that everywhere Jews are threatened. The difference is that here, in our own country, we can fight back and defend Jewish honour and dignity.
Am Yisrael Chai! (Photo (c) T. Book, 2015)