It always feels like Passover sets off this domino rally of significant days on the Jewish calendar. This coming Thursday is Holocaust Remembrance Day. But before we get into the tough stuff, I wanted to start us off with some general discussion of contemporary European Jewry by posting this fascinating guest letter.
France is home to the third-largest Jewish population in the world (after the USA and Israel)–some 475,000 people, with more than half of them living in Paris. Unfortunately, there has been a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents in Europe in recent years, and France has suffered some of the biggest and highest-profile of these incidents.
Largely as a result of this, as I’ve written before, Jews have been leaving France in droves. In 2014, for the first time in history, there were more olim (new immigrants to Israel) from France than from any other country in the world. The trend continued in 2015, with a further 10% increase. Jews are feeling less and less safe in Europe.
But it’s one thing to cite numbers, and another to talk to somebody who actually lives there. That’s why I was excited to make Aviv’s acquaintance. We connected online through mutual friends, and I interrogated him thoroughly on his experiences. (I have a habit of “interviewing” people from backgrounds that interest me. Josep is familiar with this. 😉 )
And then I thought, hey, why not interview him properly for a blog post? So this guest letter is a response to my questions (which I will include in their appropriate places). I hope you enjoy!
My name is Aviv and I am doing vocational guidance at the moment to find a good field to study. I live in Paris, France.
Now I will answer the questions.
We’ve been hearing a lot about the rise of antisemitism in Europe in general and France in particular lately. French Jews have been targeted in several horrific terror attacks in recent years, and there’s been a lot of talk on the news about Jews feeling more and more afraid and leaving Europe in large numbers. What is your experience of this as a religious Jew currently living in Paris?
Years ago, I didn’t feel a lot of antisemitism, but this is changing.
You know, there is a lot of antisemitism on the Internet, because of a lot of things. There’s an antisemitic comedian called “Dieudonné”; there are tensions between Jews and Muslims because of their positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and there are antisemitic things we can easily find on the internet. Because of these, antisemitism is gaining more success in this country.
In 2012 we had an attack on a school in Toulouse, and in January 2015 we had the attack on the Hypercacher supermarket in Paris, and I live nearby so I could see everything.
Both attacks were carried out by terrorists and I think in every religious extremism there is antisemitism, so Jews are a a good target for the terrorism.
And that’s why, when I go to the synagogue during the week or for Shabbat, I see soldiers in front of the entrance and on every street corner to protect us. I don’t feel at ease when I see them because it means we are in danger without them. I am certain that if there were no soldiers, something like the Hypercacher could happen again…
I’ve been the target of antisemitic remarks from diverse people, from some people who believe in conspiracy theories etc., and from some Muslims, since there is a lot of tension between Jews and Muslims in France because of our positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Here is a video showing what happened in 2014 between extremist Jews and Muslims in Paris during the war in Gaza.
But I hope we will have peace one day.
I know that you plan to make aliyah in the relatively near future. Why do you want to emigrate to Israel?
I would like to make aliyah one day because it’s an ideal to be in the Holy Land and I have a particular feeling in Israel that I cannot describe. I call it “the feeling of being in Israel”, maybe a connection between me and this land.
I also feel at home in Israel. I feel at home in France, too, but in Israel it’s more so.
What are your three favorite things about being Jewish in France?
- French Jewish movies.
- Rue des Rosiers. [This is a street at the heart of the Jewish quarter in Paris. It used to be full of Jewish restaurants, bakeries, kosher butchers, delicatessens etc., but many of these have been replaced in recent years by high-end fashion shops which take advantage of the fact that shops are allowed to remain open on Sunday in the Jewish quarter.–DL]
- Liberté, égalité, fraternité. [This is the national motto of France–liberty, equality, fraternity.–DL]
I know that you are involved in an online community for dialogue and peace activism between Jews and Muslims and Palestinians and Israelis. What inspired you to join these efforts? Has this dialogue changed you or your views in any way? If so, how?
I think the peace between Jews and Muslims and between Israelis and Palestinians is very important for the future of the Jewish people, so that’s why I feel involved. Jews and Muslims have a lot in common but because of our positions in the conflict, our relations are difficult. And that’s why I feel involved in the conflict. One of my Israeli teachers of Hebrew showed the students documentaries that were very difficult emotionally to watch. Then a Facebook friend added me to some Facebook groups of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, I started to have hope for the peace when I saw this. Then I added some Palestinians as my Facebook friends.
It changed some stereotypes I had about Palestinians, like “they are all terrorists, etc.” and I understood that they live in a very difficult situation. One of my Palestinian friends is a peace activist. When I come to Israel, I hope to meet some of my Palestinian Facebook friends and discuss these issues with them.
The majority of French Jews are of North African/Sephardic descent, many of whom emigrated to France after the French withdrew from their colonies in North Africa. Can you tell us a little about your own family’s background?
My father is from Morocco, and my mother is from Tunisia. The majority of French Jews are from North Africa because they lived in French colonies and were educated in the French culture. That’s why my parents speak French as well as Tunisian & Moroccan Arabic.
My parents emigrated to France because there was a rise in antisemitism in Arab countries after the wars in Israel. They chose France because they were familiar with the culture of the country, making it easier to integrate in France than in Israel.
My mother told me she went to France on a ship with her brother and her mother, and after years of working they integrated successfully. My father didn’t tell me a lot about his story because he never wanted to talk about it. You can find out more about the Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries on Wikipedia.
I know you were not raised observant, but currently identify as such. Can you tell us a little about this process? What made you decide to become religious? What obstacles have you encountered?
I had spiritual questions in high school so I decide to learn about every religion and talk to my rabbi, then I started to read books about the Judaism and I liked this religion, so I became more and more religious over time.
My family was opposed at first because they were afraid I would become extremist, but things are good today with my family and we have almost no tension over religion.
I wish the best to you and to everybody.
Are you a member of a religious minority in your country? Write us a guest letter, or a request to be interviewed! We want to hear your story!