French Jews remain guarded but resilient following the attacks in Paris last weekend that left 132 dead and hundreds injured.
Led by the chief rabbi of France, Haim Korsia, some 200 French Jews and Israel’s ambassador to France gathered at the Synagogue de la Victoire on Sunday evening to pray for the victims and those healing.
“Our people, which has been tested more than others, knows the healing power of solidarity and unity in the face of the pain of torn families, broken couples and orphaned children,” said Michel Gugenheim, chief rabbi of Paris.
Activities at Jewish institutions were suspended due to security concerns and out of respect for grieving families. As of Tuesday, no Jewish victims had been identified.
Washington-area residents with ties to France immediately checked in with their loved ones, and expressed outrage and grief over the attacks.
Victor Obadia, a member of Magen David Sephardic Congregation in Rockville, and his wife contacted their loved ones in France immediately following the attacks. Fortunately, their families were unharmed, but a family friend was killed in the attack.
“We have a lot of sorrow,” said Obadia. “My heart goes to all the families that have been touched by this event, and the barbaric [acts must] stop.”
He blamed the attacks on France being too generous in taking in immigrants and refugees from the Middle East. Obadia faulted the French minister of justice, saying Christiane Taubira-Delannon “has the police arrest people and she frees them right away from the prison.”
The France of his earlier life, Obadia recalled, was more civil and democratic, and “there was not radicalization of Islam.”
Still, Obadia does not believe the Jews of France will leave.
“For generations you live somewhere, we don’t go,” said Obadia. “We don’t have to be afraid of people like this who are fanatics. If you leave and go somewhere else you don’t face reality.”
It is better for French Jews to stay and defend their country, he added.
Gerard Leval, a member of Kesher Israel Congregation in Washington, who grew up in France, feels similarly. His family has lived in France since the 1630s and remained in Paris during World War II.
They have no intention of leaving.
Leval, who was readying for a business trip to Paris in the days following the attack, described the situation as “reminiscent of the post-9/11” feeling in the United States.
“I spoke to one of my cousins who lives just a few blocks away from where one of the café attacks occurred on Friday night,” said Leval. As his family is Shabbat observant, they were unaware of what was going on until they reached their synagogue. Instead of the usual contingent of three armed soldiers, there were six.
Since the attacks last January on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store, Paris synagogues have been assigned armed guards. In 2012, four people, three of them children, were murdered outside a Jewish school in Toulouse.
The father of one of the victims was present at the prayer service.
“Now ordinary French people are beginning to understand how us Jews have been living in recent years,” said Samuel Sandler, father of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, the teacher who was slain.
Leval echoed the same sentiment.
“I don’t think it changes much for French Jews,” said Leval. “What I hope is that the French people will come to understand what Israelis experience every day,” with groups like Hamas promoting “the same kind of violence for the sake of ideology.”
Korsia, speaking at the prayer service, said French society “will rise up from its grief like American society rose up from the tragedy of 9/11 and like Israeli society, which never lay down for attacks.”
JTA contributed to this report.