Synagogue in French City of Marseille Sold, to Reopen as a Mosque

As Jewish residents have left the city center Or Thora congregation has lost most of its former members, nearby Muslim house of worship has become overcrowded as demographics shift.

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A view of Marseille, April 23, 2016.
A view of Marseille, April 23, 2016.Credit: Boris Horvat, AFP
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A synagogue in the center of the French city of Marseille was sold to a Muslim association that is planning to turn it into a mosque.

The Or Thora synagogue on Saint Dominique Street near the Saint-Charles train station was sold a few months ago for approximately $400,000 to the Al Badr Association ahead of its reopening in the summer, the local daily La Provence reported Tuesday.

The switch reflects a demographic shift in which, over the past 16 years, tens of thousands of Marseille Jews have left its once heavily Jewish center for the city’s more affluent suburbs, La Provence reported.

Saint Dominique Street already has one mosque operated by the Al Badr Association, La Provence reported, but the group is looking for another one because it is so crowded that Muslim worshippers pray on the sidewalk on Fridays. Meanwhile, Or Thora, which has a capacity of 250, sometimes has as few as 10 worshippers.

Marseille, a seaside city of 800,000, has about 250,000 Arab residents and 80,000 Jews.

Responding to anti-Semitic attacks over Israel, Jews in the city have gravitated away from center and northern Marseille in favor of middle-class neighborhoods in its south in greater numbers than before the year 2000, according to Elie Berrebi, the director of Marseille’s Central Jewish Consistoire.

Approximately 80 percent of Marseille’s Jews now live in that part of town, he said. Arab families also are migrating from the center northward and eastward to working-class areas.

As Jews took up residence in southern Marseille, they stopped frequenting synagogues in the center, which many local Jews consider unsafe.

From October to January, Marseille saw three stabbings of Jews by assailants who are believed to be Muslim or Arab.

Still, according to Zvi Amar, president of the Marseille branch of the Consistoire — an organ of French Jewry responsible for supplying religious services — the overall Jewish population of Marseille has not diminished despite “the naturally occurring population shift” within its borders.

“There are many synagogues left in Marseille,” he said. “There were 32 in the 1990s; now that figure is almost double.”

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