As the world riled at the horrific terrorist acts in Paris last week and the French people and government pledged to confront the threat of terrorism to daily life, French Jews expressed a complicated mix of emotions.
“I am in my sixties and have attended many demonstrations in Paris, but I have never seen any like I saw today,” Laurent Munich, founder and director of French-Jewish media organ Akdem, told Hamodia. Munich had just returned from the mass rally in Paris that attracted an estimated 1.5 million people. “Aside from the emotion, sorrow and trauma of four people being killed just for being Jewish, the community has mixed feelings about this strong showing. On the one hand, there is satisfaction that the French people realize what terrorism means and what it means to live with a threat to daily life. On the other hand, there is a certain bitterness that past terror attacks on Jews did not elicit such a public reaction. It looks to some as if the murder of children in Toulouse was somehow less important than the journalists that were killed.”
Despite the increasing threats to the safety of Jews in France in recent years, Friday’s hostage standoff brought a new level of fear and alert to the community. Munich said that while the Grand Synagogue of Paris and several other shuls in Paris did not hold services Friday night, out of security concerns, most were open for mispallelim.
“It was the first time that on the way to shul Shabbos morning, I was looking to my right and left and behind,” said Munich. “Friday afternoon, as things were unfolding in the south of Paris, I was shopping for Shabbos in my own neighborhood on the other side of the city. It was a very frightening feeling to think that such a horror could happen to you.”
For several years, emigration levels of French Jews have been on the rise. Friday’s brutal attack made the question of whether Jews have a future in France far more pronounced.
“Jews have been wondering this for years,” Simon Rodan-Benzaquen, Director of AJC’s Paris office, told Hamodia regarding talk of emigration. “Many have found the answer and they have already left, others feel that there is something that is worth fighting for.”
In addition to the powerful show of support at Sunday’s rally, the French government has made a strong commitment to confront terrorism and do everything in its power to protect the Jewish community.
“The situation is very serious and the government recognizes that it is in a war of barbarism against civilization,” Roger Cukierman, President of The Council of French Jewish Institutions, told Hamodia. “I just came from a public discussion where one of the country’s leading philosophers said that we [the French people] cannot accept the idea of Jews leaving France.”
Cukierman said that the government had committed police forces, and if necessary military personnel to guard all shuls and Jewish schools. He added that in order to effectively fight the threat of Islamist terrorism, the government will need to concentrate not only on security and intelligence, but on stopping the spread of violent ideology on social media and working to stop French prisons from being “schools for jihadism.”
“The feeling of Jews is that we have been citizens of France since 1792, and do not want to live in ghettos,” said Cukierman. “We hope that the government is able to protect us. We cannot accept to be pariahs in society.”