Amid terror, French Jews show resolve

Amid terror, French Jews show resolve

People place flowers and candles near the scene of the Bataclan Concert Hall terrorist attack in Paris. (Photo by Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images)
People place flowers and candles near the scene of the Bataclan Concert Hall terrorist attack in Paris. (Photo by Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images)

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 assembled at the Synagogue de la Victoire on Sunday evening to pray for the victims and those healing.

“Our people, who have been tested more than others, know 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.

Americans with ties to France were stung by the carnage.

Annie Kaplan, a translator living in Mt. Lebanon who moved to the United States from Paris in 1986, told the The Chronicle that her loved ones were unharmed. Still, it was impossible not to see everyone as a victim.

“You have to understand, the Jews of France, they have lived this situation,” she said. “They have been on the forefront of this whole thing and possibly have been the main target of Jihadis in France. Unfortunately, for the Jews, it’s a familiar story and they’re in shock and they feel it may not be the end of it.”

Victor Obadia, a member of Magen David Sephardic Congregation in Maryland, and his wife checked in with their loved ones in France immediately following the attacks. Fortunately, their immediate 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 emigrants and refugees from the Middle East. Obadia finds the French minister of justice problematic as well, saying Christiane Taubira-Delannon “has the police arrest people and then she frees them right away from the prison.”

The France of Obadia’s earlier life, he 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, Parisian synagogues have been assigned armed guards. In 2012, Jews were murdered outside a Jewish school in Toulouse. The father of one of the victims was present at the prayer service.

Said Samuel Sandler, father of the murdered Jonathan Sandler, “Now, ordinary French people are beginning to understand how us Jews have been living in recent years.”

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 such as 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.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh issued a statement calling the attacks an assault on Western values.

“We are encouraged by the worldwide outpouring of sympathy for France, including by the Israeli government, which is working to combat European terrorism by sharing intelligence with its ally France about the Islamic State and other Islamic extremist organizations,” said the statement. “We pledge our support for all governments and communities worldwide who continue to hold strong to the values of democracy and equal rights for all in the face of the ongoing threat of terrorism.”

The statement also urged France to voice its support for Israel, which has faced an onslaught of Islamic terrorism for decades but more recently in the form of stabbing attacks and shootings against civilians since the High Holidays.

JTA contributed to this report. Melissa Apter covers politics for Mid-Atlantic Media. She can be reached at