French Jewish Leader: The War in Syria and Iraq Has Now Reached Paris

Some Jews in France feel their own tragedy has been overlooked by countrymen fixated on the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Shirli Sitbon.
Shirli Sitbon
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A board reading "I am Jewish, Charlie and French" (Je suis Juif, Charle et Francais) has been put on a security barrier near kosher grocery store in Porte de Vincennes, eastern Paris, on January 10
A board reading "I am Jewish, Charlie and French" (Je suis Juif, Charle et Francais) has been put on a security barrier near kosher grocery store in Porte de Vincennes, eastern Paris, on January 10Credit: AFP
Shirli Sitbon.
Shirli Sitbon

A crowd gathered outside Saint-Mandé’s City Hall after Shabbat, a day after gunmen killed four Jewish men at the city’s Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket. Many of France’s estimated 600,000 Jews were not surprised that a community business was targeted by terrorists, since Jewish schools, institutions, synagogues and stores have been attacked several times in the past but the latest violence brought fear to new levels.

Many of the participants at the Saint-Mandé demonstration expressed sadness mixed with anger over the events of the past few days. "Look around you, everyone is angry," a young man who placed candles next to the entrance to the supermarket said to Haaretz. "We thought there was security here, that the police were protecting us, and suddenly, form one day to the next, look what happened – they started shooting in the streets."

Participants in the demonstration claimed that despite the announcement from French Jewry’s umbrella organization that all synagogues in the country were open on Saturday, there were synagogues that remained closed out of fear.

Despite the traumatic events, the participants in the demonstration said they have no intention of leaving forIsrael. Morrisette, an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor who came to protest, was insulted by the question of whether she was considering leaving: "We are French. We were born here," she said.
"We are staying - if the Jews don't stay who will remain?" said a young man.

A bloody Friday

French police forces gather close to the kosher grocery store in Saint-Mande - until recently, a city in which Jews felt priveleged and protected. Credit: AFP

In Saint-Mandé, a posh city where thousands of Jews live, neighboring eastern Paris, everything changed on Friday. Residents used to think they were privileged and safe compared to Jews in other cities, such as Sarcelles, Créteil and Marseille. Now many are terrified. During Friday’s attack, those who live close by spent the day hiding in their homes.

“I was so scared for my daughter who was forced to stay in her kindergarten, located across from the supermarket. But teachers reassured us, describing how they told the kids that police were catching a burglar. My daughter did not seem affected at all,” said a neighborhood resident.

Although neighborhood children were required to stay inside their schools, Jewish organizations insisted that all communities maintain their activities as planned, even in the local synagogue located near the supermarket. Like last summer when several synagogues were attacked, police units asked communities could cancel Shabbat services and recommended that shops close for the day, but Jewish organizations refused.

“We’re not cancelling anything,” Roger Cukierman, the head of the Jewish umbrella group Crif, told Haaretz.

French authorities boosted security measures — everywhere.

“Until this week we had policemen outside our synagogue, now we have twice as many and they’re heavily armed with automatic weapons and bullet-proof vests,” said Adeline, from the Jewish community of Grenoble, near the French Alps. “People are terrified. They say they want to leave France. Meanwhile non-Jews don’t seem to notice anything at all. They don’t even talk about the terror wave, not even the shooting at Charlie Hebdo’s offices.”

In synagogues across France Jews prayed on Saturday for the hostages who were killed: Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen and François-Michel Saada. Far-left organizations and workers unions have also staged protests against terrorism in cities throughout the country, but in some areas Jews were shocked that these organizations didn’t even mention Friday’s hostage situation.

“They only talked about Charlie Hebdo, which was a terrible attack obviously, but they could have included the one that hit Hyper Cacher and they didn’t,” said Philippe, from the southern town of Valence.

Some Jews are hesitant to participate in Sunday’s national march because it’s organized by far-left parties that protested against Israel last summer.

But Crif leader Roger Cukierman told French radio “it’s a duty” to participate in the march in order “to resist.”

“I feel like we’ve entered a war. The war in Syria, Iraq and Mali has now reached Paris,” he said.

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