Marseille Synagogue to Be Converted Into Mosque as Jews Leave City

France Muslims Jews Marseille Mosque
A man wears a kippah, the traditional Jewish skullcap, as he attends a visit of French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve at a synagogue after an attack in front of a Jewish school in Marseille, France, January 14. Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

A Marseille synagogue is to be converted into a mosque as the demand for places of religious worship for Jews and Muslims shifts in the southern French city.

Several months ago, the Al Badr Association, a Muslim organization, purchased the Or Thora synagogue near the Saint-Charles train station in Marseille for some $400,000, daily French newspaper La Provence reported on Tuesday.

Al Badr is to reopen the religious place of worship for Jews as a mosque this summer as the numbers continued to dwindle at the synagogue while an overflow of worshippers overwhelmed one of Al Badr's other mosques.

The French paper reported that the Or Thora synagogue sometimes has as little as 10 worshippers present despite having a capacity of 250, while the Al Badr mosque often became so busy that worshippers were forced to pray outside the complex on a Friday, the holy day of worship in Islam.

The change from synagogue to mosque is symbolic of a wider trend in the city, with many of the city's Jews moving out of its center and into more affluent suburbs or even to other locations because of rising anti-Semitism, according to Elie Berrebi, the director of Marseille's Central Jewish Consistoire, a body that governs Jewish congregations, who spoke to The Times of Israel.

In the city of 800,000, it has approximately a quarter of a million Arab residents and some 80,000 Jewish residents. Increasingly, Marseille's Jews are moving to the city's south, with more than 80 percent of the city's population now residing there, Berrebi says, and most have stopped frequenting central synagogues as this area is perceived to be a higher security risk.

Many of the city's Jews and the country's wider Jewish population are looking further afield for safety—in Israel and as well as in London. A social media campaign using the hashtag #TousAvecUneKippa, or Everyone with a Kippa, began in January, showing well-known French figures adorning the Jewish religious headwear after an anti-Semitic attack in the city in January.

The campaign was launched to show solidarity with French Jews after a teenager claiming to be acting on behalf of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) attacked a Jewish teacher, Benjamin Amsellem, with a machete and a knife while he was traveling to his religious education workplace in Marseille.

The attack caused division within the Jewish community as well. Following the attack, prominent Jewish community leader in Marseille, Zvi Ammar, called on Jewish men to stop wearing their kippahs and "being identified as Jewish" in order to prevent further attacks and deaths in the city because of the rising anti-Semitism. There were two other stabbings of Jews by Muslim or Arab assailants between October 2015 and January.