August 5, 2004
Do Not Abandon the Jews of France
As the old song goes: "I love Paris in the springtime. I love Paris in the fall." But for many Jews, Paris, and all of France, is not at the top of their visitor's hit parade, because of the anti-Semitic activities that have plagued that country in recent times.
Currently, there are 60 million residents of France, of which 600,000 are Jewish, while the Muslin population is now at 6 million or 10 percent of the country. Suffice it to say, this last statistic has been offered as one of the main factors in the increase of anti-Semitic activities in the past few years, this, plus the fact that there is an inordinately high unemployment rate among the Muslim population (18 percent).
Also, the reality of anti-Israel sentiments of nearly all believers in Allah combine to make this a very difficult period for our French Jewish brothers and sisters.
When Carol and I decided to go to Paris on vacation this summer, many congregants and colleagues reacted quite negatively. "Why to a place where Jews are treated so badly?" some asked. Others cited the newspaper articles declaring that many French Jews were contemplating aliyah, a permanent move to Israel.
Now, after having spent a week in Paris and returning home, I can declare to you that the worst thing we can do to show our loyalty to the Jews of France is to not go and visit them.
Carol and I attended and I spoke at Sabbath services at one of Paris' four Reform synagogues. The 40 or so members present were grateful for our attendance and wanted me to know without hesitation that the French government is not anti-Semitic, and that most of the anti-Jewish problems are being caused by the Muslim population, specifically.
"Do not abandon us," is what I heard over and over from the folks I spoke with on that Sabbath eve in Paris. And frankly, it doesn't make sense to shun or disconnect from our fellow Jews at a time when they truly need us.
We arrived in Paris at the moment when news of a terrible anti-Semitic incident became known. A 23-year-old woman and her baby were attacked with knives and injured at a train station on the outskirts of Paris. The media covered the story extensively. The government spoke out against the attack. The official Jewish community decried it as one in a series of atrocities.
This event happened on a Thursday. By the following Wednesday, it was announced in the press that the woman, not a Jew, had fabricated the entire beating and had a long history of bringing attention to herself through such fantasies. But the damage was already done, and the situation of the Jews in France was further degraded.
The bottom line: The Jews of France are undergoing an upsurge of anti-Semitism. The causes are complex: unemployed Muslim immigrants, the anti-Israel attitude of so many that is transferred to the Jew on the street and the traditional dislike of Jews that has gone on for thousands of years.
However, the French government is not the main culprit. I met with the emissary of the French government to the Jews of France. He has the rank of "ambassador" and is very sophisticated and sympathetic vis-a-vis the problems of the Jews in France.
I was impressed with him, and he plans to visit Southern California in the fall. I think we should return the favor and not paint all the French with the same brush.
Lawrence Goldmark is the rabbi at Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada.