Attacks Reverberate in France's Jewish Community

Paris's holocaust memorial was half closed Sunday. At the front desk of the museum that sits behind the monument itself, two receptionists said the manager was away, preparing to attend the evening service for the victims of Friday's attacks. Outside, three members of the French military patrolled, their khaki fatigues contrasting with those of the three armed, blue-uniformed policemen. Nearby, a fourth policeman sat in a white van, its side doors open. When asked if such a presence was because of Friday's attacks, one of the soldiers cracked a wry smile. "Non madame, c'est tous ans"—it is all years.

France's Jewish community has long feared the rage and hatred of anti-Semitism. A spate of violence this year began with one of the worst terror attacks the country has experienced. Following the shootings at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices, a third gunman named Ahmed Coulibaly went on a rampage, shooting dead a policewoman and then killing four in a Kosher supermarket. Since his assault, other assailants have stabbed and beaten France's Jews, sending some of them death threats.

But Friday's attacks were different. This time all people were targeted as gunmen fired indiscriminately into crowds. This was not a repeat of the Charlie Hebdo assassinations. Nonetheless rumors have begun to spread that anti-Semitism may have motivated the worst attack—on the Bataclan concert hall, which left 89 people dead. Until September, the Jewish brothers Joel and Pascal Laloux had owned the theatre. It long had received anti-Semitic threats, and some people fear the gunmen may have targeted it believing it was still in Jewish hands.

At a kosher restaurant in Paris's trendy Le Marais district sits the owner, Monsieur Moise. Tzitzit, or ritual tassels, hang off his traditional clothes, and he sports a large, gray beard—he looks every bit the pillar of the community he seems to be. During the conversation, a man comes in off the street asking for his advice. Moise's staffers approach him deferentially, offering a bite of a pastry, a refill of tea. Away from the designer shops, he is a reminder that Le Marais is also the city's Jewish quarter.

"I am not scared of more attacks," Moise, 65, said. "But I am sad for the youth that died. It's our duty to protect the children." Despite his fortitude, Moise said he believes there will be further attacks on France's Jewish population. "Every day Jews are attacked, even in Israel," he said. "In France we accept the risk. Anti-Semitism has existed since the Bible began and it will always exist."

It is a grim prophecy, and one that is shared by Jerome, 51, who didn't want his surname published for security reasons. He owns a shop down one of Le Marais's many side streets. It sells Jewish objects—prayer books, Hanukahs and dreidels. Tall, perhaps too tall for his cluttered shop, he said France does have a problem with anti-Semitism. But, he added, what happened on Friday was not an example of that. "These events are new, it is not like Charlie Hebdo," Jerome said. The terrorists "are no longer against the Jews, they are against the world."

With people from all backgrounds now targeted, Jerome said France must address the problem of radical Islam. "The government should close the Salafist mosques that preach hatred," he said. "They should send home the radical imams from countries like Saudi Arabia who speak in Arabic, not French." But, he added, France must not act in panic and shut down its borders. "We all must have solidarity," he said. "We must continue living."

Near Jerome's shop is a kosher butcher. On display are jars of pickles, cured meats and sausages and a slab of salt beef. The owner, Michel, has had the shop for decades—its charcuterie, one of his employees says, has won awards. The employee, Franca, who asked that only her first name be given, was the perfect host. But as she offered to cut samples of charcuterie or pour a cup of coffee, her smile disappeared. "What happened on Friday was completely frightening, I have no words," she said. "I feel like I lost part of my family in the attack. It's not a question of religion but of people." She is only at work, she said, because she has her family to support.

Though she knows Friday's attacks were not aimed at the Jewish community, she is still worried. Franca has also heard the Bataclan rumors. "It's possible, really possible that there will be attacks against Jewish people," she said. "It frightens me a lot." As she cuts a slice of her homemade cheesecake, she echoes Monsieur Moise. "Jewish people have been targeted for centuries, it is nothing new. There is lots of anti-Semitism in France."

Outside the charcuterie, two women sit enjoying Franca's cheesecake and coffee. Like her, like so much of France, they are confused by what happened. They don't understand the senselessness of it all, they don't understand why it couldn't be prevented. But, said Virginie, the older of the pair, "we must keep living, we must all love each other." She pointed at the sky: "Look, it is November and the sun is shining, that is a good sign."

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Attacks Reverberate in France's Jewish Community | Politics