Only three weeks after four Jews were killed at a kosher supermarket, one man was arrested for trying to burn an Israeli flag in front of that same market and another man was arrested for painting the word “Jew” on parked cars in Paris.
This spate of anti-Semitic acts in France brought 47 Jewish Federations of North America leaders, including seven from the Washington area, to Paris.
The federations “will be doing what we can” to help those who want to move to Israel as well as those who want to remain in France, but not live in fear, said Steven Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
“There is tension. The attacks were very frightening [for the Jewish people here],” said Rabbi Adam Raskin of Congregation of Har Shalom in Potomac. What Raskin found to be “the most eye opening” is that French Jews aren’t all clamoring to leave their homeland, as he had been led to believe.
“There is a very strong contingent of French Jews who are very committed to staying there,” Raskin said during a phone interview Monday while traveling in Paris. “They love Israel. They are Zionists, but they love France.”
The French government is providing security at all of the country’s 600 Jewish sites, including Jewish day schools which are attended by roughly 32,000 children.
But looming during the many conversations with members of the Jewish community was the fear that government aid would end but anti-Semitism would persist, Raskin said.
“One day the government will stop protecting them due to a lack of money or a dwindling of support, Raskin said.
For now, intense security is evident at Jewish buildings. “Full military gear, guns at the ready,” Rakitt said. However, once inside, it feels like any Jewish institution in America, he said.
Participants in the JFNA’s Solidarity Mission to Paris attended an aliyah fair, where some 5,000 people crowded the tables. However, it seemed like most of those attending were young people trying to find out how they could visit or study in Israel and then return home, said Dede Feinberg, chair of the executive committee of the JFNA board of directors.
“You see a very vibrant community. You see a very passionate community. You see a very proud community,” she said. However, “They are now living in a new, very hostile, environment.”
The people she met were concerned, but not frightened, she said. Roughly 10,000 to 15,000 Jews are expected to leave France this year, she said.
“There is no panic, but they want to plan,” Feinberg said, pointing to families who are selling their homes in case they need to get out in a hurry.
JFNA’s role is to help the Jewish community stay strong and secure while also assist those who want to leave. “Thank goodness we have Israel,” Rakitt said.
During the Feb. 8 and 9 visit, participants said kaddish in front of the Hyper Cacher Supermarket, the site of a terrorist attack last month. They also listened to the stories of one of the hostages and the policeman who saved her during a dinner session.
Among France’s 60 million citizens are six million Muslims and 500,000 Jews, said Rakitt, adding it is the third-largest Jewish community after Israel and the United States.