French President Emmanuel Macron wooed Europe’s Jews in opening The Center of European Judaism, in Paris’s 17th arrondissement, a 15-minute drive from the Eiffel Tower. The Center is a sparkling new, seven-floor, 5,000-square-meter, purpose-built palace of Judaism. And it’s built for all of Europe’s Jews.
The Center took 15 years to organize, but it was worth the wait. It includes a vast conference hall and a strictly kosher restaurant. A strikingly modern shul, with a magen Dovid of lights hovering above it, gives the building a religious look. Highlighting the Center’s religious slant, the first-ever use of the building was Yom Kippur services in the shul, with a chazzan flown in specially from Israel. Paintings by Alain Kleinmann, with appropriately Jewish themes, cover the walls.
The Center’s inauguration was important enough to attract widespread French media coverage. Many guests flew in from around Europe, including former Prime Minister Emmanuel Valls, now campaigning to become Barcelona’s mayor. David and Eric Rothschild, Général Goguenheim and a cohort of Rabbanim mingled with the French establishment and the diplomatic corps as they awaited the president, to the accompaniment of a string quartet.
President Macron beamed in delight at the warmth of his welcome. He is the fourth of France’s presidents to be involved with this project. Jacques Chirac, then-mayor of Paris, promised a plot to then-Chief Rabbi Sitruk. Dr. Joël Mergui, founding president of the Center and the Consistoire’s Chief of Chiefs, French Jewry’s main religious organization, pushed for the project throughout his terms in office, despite repeated attacks on French and European Jewry. The son of an inspirational Rav from Meknes, Dr. Mergui described Jewry’s relationship with France as a “long history of love, with occasional problems.”
French Chief Rabbi Korsia quoted the Navi Yeshayahu’s “my House shall be a house of prayer for all nations,” and paid tribute to Joël’s dream of the Center. ”We needed this dream.” He greeted Macron as a friend, joking that many Jews have a Christian first name and a Jewish surname, but with Emmanuel Macron, the opposite is true! The president laughed out loud.
President Macron expressed his determination to fight anti-Semitism, and the silence which often accompanies it. He spoke of the need for the Center to win hearts and minds to the enormous Jewish contribution to European civilization. And he listed many Jewish historical figures from France, Spain, Italy and Germany.
“Passionate European that I am, I welcome this Center.” He spoke of the Bible’s “You shall love your neighbor as yourself “as being at the heart of the French Republic’s ideal of fraternité. He called the Center “a gift to France and to Europe.”
The Center is based in the 17th arrondissement, thought to have over 37,000 Jews, with many shtieblach and kosher restaurants.