Jews worry about their future in France after attack on kosher market

A French soldier patrols next to a Jewish school in Paris.
A French soldier patrols next to a Jewish school in Paris.
(Thibault Camus / Associated Press)

A pair of soldiers toting submachine guns patrolled Tuesday outside a Jewish school on Rue Pavee in Paris’ Marais district, where shoppers and tourists mingled with black-clad, ultra-Orthodox men.

Across the street, the owner of the Pitzman falafel shop eyed customers warily under gray skies and an occasional chilly drizzle in the city’s traditional Jewish quarter.

At the school day’s end, parents sidestepped the beret-wearing French soldiers in body armor and combat boots to pick up their children in the midst of the bustling neighborhood.


“I don’t know if there will be a future for my children here in 10 years,” said Joy Bengoussan, a mother of four, holding hands with two daughters, Haya, 4, and Rahal, 3, expressing a sentiment on the minds of many other Jewish people. “This didn’t just start now. It has been going on for a while.”

Last week’s Islamist terrorist attacks included the killing of four people at a kosher market Friday, the latest blow for France’s reeling Jewish community, Europe’s largest at about 500,000 people. Thousands of Jewish people have left France for Israel or other destinations in recent years, many citing economic reasons and unease related to anti-Semitism.

The attack at the market, which ended with authorities killing the gunman, came two days after a dozen people were slain in an assault by two brothers on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine targeted for lampooning Islam. The militants were at large until Friday, when they were killed by authorities. A policewoman was also killed in an attack last week.

In response to the violence, the government said 10,000 troops and additional police would be ordered to the streets of Paris to guard “sensitive” sites, including more than 700 Jewish schools. Jewish residents in the city and elsewhere generally welcomed the bolstered security presence.

But many in the Jewish community remained angry about what they see as a lapse in protecting the nation against homegrown militants mostly arising from the alienated immigrant enclaves on the fringes of Paris and elsewhere in France. A demonstration Sunday that featured more than 1 million people marching in a show of unity did little to quell some people’s discontent.

“I respect the values of liberty. I am French. But the government needs to do something about this or everything will be lost,” said one Jewish student, who, like many others, declined to give his name for privacy reasons. The march against terrorism “was a positive thing,” he said.

The market attack victims were laid to rest Tuesday in Jerusalem, where Israeli authorities called on French Jews to return to their “historic home.”

Many are taking the advice.

France has become the major country of origin for Jews returning to Israel, and the numbers are on the rise. A record of almost 7,000 immigrants from France arrived in Israel last year, according to the Israeli government, double the previous year. The figure is expected to exceed 10,000 in 2015. Experts say that a perception of growing anti-Semitism in France only partially explains the flight, which is also related to economic, personal and other reasons that may prompt French Jews to emigrate.

Some government officials are alarmed.

“A France without Jews is no longer France,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared last year.

But the attacks last week have again prompted many to contemplate leaving a nation with a long and venerable history of Jewish settlement and cultural contributions.

“I’ve got my passport and valise ready to go,” said a bearded and cheerful middle-age man in the Marais district who gave only his first name, Claude. He said he feared a day when he would no longer feel at home in France, adding in reference to Israel, “At least we have a place to go to.”

The Marais neighborhood, now being overrun by pseudo-chic emporiums and discount clothing shops, has been a Jewish enclave since the late 19th century. Many French Jews have fond recollections of times spent here in the midst of Paris’ 4th arrondissement. But the district has ghosts.

Around the corner from the Jewish school on Rue Pavee, a plaque marks the spot of a former neighborhood school. In 1943-44, its principal, staff and students were deported to Auschwitz and systematically killed because they were “born Jews,” the plaque explains.

Down the block is the storefront that formerly housed the Jo Goldenberg Deli, site of a 1982 shooting and grenade attack attributed to Palestinian militants. Six people were killed and 22 injured.

The market where the attack occurred Friday may one day bear a similar plaque. For now, the market has become a makeshift shrine for the Jewish community in the midst of a multiethnic, working-class district in far eastern Paris that is also home to many immigrants from Africa and the Middle East.

Visitors leave flowers and candles outside the battered shop, still heavily guarded by police fearing a follow-up strike. Some visitors have left Israeli flags, along with personal tributes to those killed.

Across town, the symbolic significance of the Marais district for France’s Jewish population has prompted some to make a kind of pilgrimage in an act of community solidarity.

“We came here to show our support in a difficult time,” said Yechezkel Danziger, a New Yorker who said he and his wife changed the itinerary of a European visit after hearing of the violence.

“People are trying to stick together,” said Danziger, holding a map of Paris as he and his wife navigated the narrow streets of the Marais district.

Down the street, Jacob Murciano contemplated his future in his French homeland.

“I have a lot of friends who have left to make a new life, even though they didn’t have a job or didn’t know the language,” said Murciano, proprietor of the Boulangerie Murciano, a landmark Jewish bakery in business since 1909, purveyor of rugelach, harissa, baklava, cheesecake and other delicacies.

The owner stood behind the counter, wondering out loud if he, too, would join the modern-day exodus.

“We have lived well in France, but we have arrived at our limits,” said the soft-spoken Murciano. “If there is not a positive solution that will allow us to stay, we will leave too.”

Special correspondent Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.