American Girl in Paris: Not The Story You Expect

When an American girl travels to Paris, certain imagery comes to mind.

As I sat on the plane headed to France, I unpinned a necklace I hadn’t taken off for five years, my necklace embodying a Jewish Star.

I’ve only read in the news the terrible things perpetrated on Jews in Europe, specifically France, over the past few years. But with an optimistic outlook, I brushed off my fears of anything happening to me.  I was traveling to France with other imagery in mind.

Eiffel Tower. Check. Arc de Triumph. Check. King XVII Palace. Pause. Rewind. Take a Deep Breathe.

Without the acknowledgment or any prior information, my French counterpart and I walked into the King’s Garden with a sudden surprise. Amongst all the hidden ancient treasures that filled the castle per the King’s demand years ago, stood a new exhibit. This exhibit was breathtaking and from afar I couldn’t wait to capture the artwork with a closer eye. As I slowly approached it, it was clear that something was awry; indeed, there was something that didn’t feel right, something about the only modern piece in this 67,00 m. of land.

The area was security controlled and fenced in, and all I could see was the workers surrounding the beautiful piece of artwork. Without anyone saying a word, I knew in my heart what had happened. The offensive words and graffiti were being covered with golden papers as if the truth needed to be hidden.

“L’antisemitisme” said the man guarding the artwork. It was the only word I needed to understand in his soft-spoken, apologetic French.

This past year after immigrating to Israel, I’ve met hundreds of French Jews who decided to go down the same path as I, to live in a Jewish country where they are free to be Jewish and feel safe in their homeland. They are proud French Jews, and they assured me that the media portrays the atmosphere in France much worse that the reality on the ground.  Still, I felt the need to see for myself.

That day as I stood in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, I realized the truth. The truth being that an artist like Anish Kapoor, known worldwide as a brilliant and talented sculptor, could only be seen as one thing: A Jew. That no matter what he creates, he will be minimized because he was born a Jew.

As I stood there listening to the murmurs of people walking by, I sat in agony and disgust as people asked, “How much is that going to cost to fix?” and “How soon can they remove the sculpture?”

I realized that day, that the world turns a blind eye as Jews are still being targeted, harassed and persecuted; that their accomplishments are often belittled, accosted or go unrecognized.

I’ve seen in it movements like BDS (Boycott, Divest Sanction Movement) who target Jews like Singer Matisyahu, who was  asked to step down from a concert simply because he wouldn’t make a negative comment on Israel, the Jewish State. Matisyahu, a Jewish American, responded and said that “Regardless of race, creed, country, cultural background, etc. my goal is to play music for all people. As musicians that is what we seek.”

I’ve seen it even at the university level; for example, the time UCLA Student Rachel Beyda was told she couldn’t serve on Student Government because she was Jewish.

I’ve also seen it in history, as in World War II, when Jews had their rights as citizens taken away simply because they were Jewish; when they became labeled as numbers instead of people because they were Jewish, and when they were slaughtered by the millions because they were Jewish.

I’m watching it now outside of my home in the State of Israel where in the past week at least 20 Jewish people were stabbed or shot by terrorists because they are Jewish people. The same Jewish people who came as refugees to a land so they can protect themselves from the rest of the anti-semitic world. Israel, a place where Jewish people should feel safe, is defending itself yet again from terror on their own ground.

And I’ve seen it in a place where this story all began, France, where a gang of 27 kidnapped a young Jewish boy, Ilan Hallimi, and brutally beat him, completely wrapping his head in duct tape and burning his body and face with acid because they wanted to hold him for ransom. This “Gang of Barbarians,” as they were later known, confessed that they believed all Jews to be rich  and it motivated them to target several Jews for their money.

When will enough be enough and when will never again be never again?

About the Author
Kayla Wold grew up in Los Angeles and attended college in San Francisco before moving to Israel in 2014.
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