In the wake of shocking terror attacks in Paris, the city’s Jewish community struggles with feelings of mourning as well as concerns for their own safety, tempered by a resolve to carry on as normally as possible.
Roger Cukierman, president of the Council of French Jewish Institutions, spoke of the unique empathy that the community shares with the general public as well as the extent to which the attacks have shaken society.
“Like all of France, we are shocked and horrified by the barbarism and are feeling a lot of compassion. We know all too well what terror is,” he told Hamodia.
Violent anti-Semitic attacks have been steadily rising in France for several years. The 2012 killings at a Jewish school in Toulouse attracted wide media attention. More recently, in the days following an attack on the controversial Paris-based magazine Charlie Hebdo, four Jews were killed in Hyper Cacher, a kosher grocery.
Friday’s violence, which claimed over 130 lives and wounded several hundreds more, was the largest-scale attack on French soil in recent history.
“I think it is understood by all that we have entered into a world war,” said Mr. Cukierman. “Previously, attacks focused on Jews or journalists, but now it is a clear and random attack on the general public with the sole intention of killing as many people as possible.”
The French government has been providing heightened security to all Jewish institutions since last January. After this most recent attack, the authorities repeated a warning that has been issued in times of high alert — that people attending shuls and other Jewish institutions should take care not to chat or tarry in front of the buildings.
“We are trying to carry on as usual,” said Mr. Cukierman. “Security didn’t have to be increased because it is already at maximum; we cannot ask for more.”
Rabbi Shlomo Katz of Paris’ Yeshivas Yad Mordechai spoke of the degree to which the attacks had affected French society.
“This was like 9/11 for the French. It shook them up tremendously and it seems they finally grasp the seriousness of the situation,” he said. “There definitely is a lot of fear in the street. The government sent out tons of soldiers to patrol the city. It’s a very big blow for Paris. Tourism is one of the major industries. Now all of the hotels have lots of cancellations.”
Given the sequence of events last winter, the Jewish community was in a state of high alert. Simone Rodan Benzaquen, Paris director of the American Jewish Committee, told Hamodia of security concerns in Jewish neighborhoods.
“There is also the still existing security threat that the Jewish community has to deal with,” she said on Sunday. “All of Paris has been pretty empty over the past couple of days, including the Jewish neighborhood, the Marais. And just now, there was a false alarm in the area, which made everybody very nervous. People were running in panic.”
Laurent Munich, founder and director of French-Jewish media outlet Akdem, said that amid sympathy and mourning, many in the community hoped that this random act had raised consciousness of the constant threats under which the country’s Jews live.
“It’s a mixed feeling. On the one hand, there is a feeling that the rest of the population now knows what we live with on a daily basis,” he said. “On the other hand, if the whole country is at risk, how much more so the Jewish community?”
Mr. Munich described the acute fear and bitterness among French Jews because of the attacks last January and the national reaction to terror.
“The last few days everybody has been thinking that the next one will be for us,” he said. “The most dramatic difference is that for the first time, the French nation is realizing that terror is totally blind. Before, people could rationalize, it was controversial journalists or Jews; they had a rational explanation. You hear it in the streets and on media, ‘Now they are attacking French people,’ as if to say that before they were just killing Jews.”
In light of the tenuous security situation and three days of national mourning declared by French President Francois Hollande, several events were postponed, including the opening of the Jewish Federation of France’s National Appeal for Tzedakah, which raises several millions of dollars. A ceremony for the victims was held Sunday night in Paris’s Synagogue de la Victoire under the auspices of France’s Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Haim Korsia.
Rabbanim and askanim contacted by Hamodia reported that attendance at tefillos on Shabbos was nearly normal and that Jewish schools were open on Sunday.
“Since it happened on Shabbos, people did not know exactly what had happened. We had a few less people than usual in shul, but most came,” said Rabbi Moshe Lewin, executive director of the Conference of European Rabbis, who lives in Paris.
He said that roughly 200 of his 250 congregants attended shul on Shabbos and that approximately three-quarters of the parent body sent their children to school Sunday morning.
“The Chief Rabbi has set a tone that life must continue. Each of us must look out for the other, but there is no safe place for a Jew anywhere in the world,” said Rabbi Lewin. “Jews are always before what happens to the general public. Ilan Halimi was murdered and nothing was done. Merah killed Jewish children at a school, and not enough was done. It is a message that if society does not address anti-Semitism, it comes back to haunt everyone.”
A version of this article appeared in Monday’s daily edition