Jewish Life in Paris
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By Jennifer Korach
Since August 21, I have been living in the 16th arrondissement (neighborhood) of Paris, France with my husband and two children (Natalie 14 & Quinn 11). We decided to take a 'year off' from our suburban life to give our kids the GIFT an international experience, live in an apartment in the city and send our kids to The American School of Paris. The school looks like the United Nations. Kids from 40 nationalities, speaking countless languages make up the student population. So, why Paris? We wanted to be in a foreign language speaking country so our kids could become immersed in the language, we wanted to be in Central Europe to make travel throughout Europe accessible and we have been here several times and really enjoyed our time in this beautiful city. Many of our friends, Jewish ones especially, were concerned about our decision. What they had reading on social media, in newspapers and seeing in the news does not paint a good picture of security for the Jewish people here an throughout much of Europe. We placated them, told them we would be careful and went on our adventure.
But, that all changed for me starting with the murders at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris. The attack was in the 11th - other side of town from where we are living but still frightening and sickening. And, though the magazine really pushed the envelope with some of their crass satire, I support their right to free speech. Right after the attacks, we received notice from the school that they were monitoring the situation very closely and would be canceling all after school activities. The American sites, schools and embassies are considered a terror target and handle security seriously. But truly, directly after the attacks I found it amazing how life goes on in a big city. People hung their Juis Sui Charlie signs, went to the rally but continued with their lives while staying glued to the media to hear reports on the capture of the suspects. But, then the policewoman was shot and the city got significantly more quiet and guarded. Soon it was suspected that the two events were related and my mind started racing. I decided we should avoid the metro and only takes cabs and Uber just to be safe. With that being said, I wasn't going to stop living, I was just being careful and staying close to home. On Friday, I actually met some friends for lunch. We were talking about our fears, how the school handled the issue with the kids and how each of us had children in our beds for the last two nights because they were having nightmares about terrorism. Having just returned from a family trip to Israel, I was telling my friends that this is what life is always like for Israelis on a daily basis and then my phone started blowing up! I had received about 20 texts over the last two days of friends checking in making sure we were okay but this barrage of buzzing was different. Everyone at the table started getting more texts and that's when I heard about the hostage situation at the printing company and the kosher market. My heart stopped, my chest felt tight, my eyes teared up and I was truly afraid. Afraid for myself, my family, my people and for democracy. I have had dozens of conversations with French Jews since I have been here and I always ask, "Are you going to leave?" More and more I am hearing, Yes! This seems especially true in the middle class, more religious neighborhoods of Paris where Jews and Moslems are living in close proximity. There, the incidents of anti-Semitic acts and taunting of the Jewish kids in the public schools seems like a constant occurrence causing Jews to feel less and less safe. The increased anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions (parading as anti-Israel) since this summer has many Jews feeling unsupported by the government. They feel Francois Hollande has not done enough to support Israel, denounce terrorism from Hamas and protect Jews locally. The Islamization of most of Europe is a really a challenging subject for liberal leaning societies like France to deal with/confront and though they need and want the Jews of France to stay here, more and more Jews do not see a future here and are ready to leave. There are around 600,000 Jews in France and 5,000,000 Moslems and the politicians need the support of the biggest voting body. They feel they cannot win.
Although I feel very safe in my heavily Jewish neighborhood of Paris and frequent many Kosher establishments with no problem, the increased armed military security at all the shuls, Jewish day schools, American schools/sites and around the Jewish areas paints a sad picture of what it's like for a Jew living in France. I hope and pray that things will change and the Jews of France can stay in this vibrant, beautiful city for years to come.