Rabbi Anne Laurent’s teenage children brought the news to her in her home office in Montclair.
“Something’s going on in Paris, Mom,” she recalls them saying. Laurent grew up in Paris’s sixth arrondissement before moving to the United States as a young adult. She still has family in Paris, including two siblings, who both live in the 11th arrondissement.
Turning on the TV and the Internet on Nov. 13, seeing the events so near their homes, she started to worry. “I started calling immediately. At that time I was not so much interested in what was happening but whether my brother and sister were safe. They were both likely eating outside,” she said, because it was Friday night, and that’s what Parisians do on Friday nights.
“I think I wasn’t quite ‘there.’ I was simply focused. I tried not to think. Just dialed the phone and that’s it.” Laurent added, “I detached myself…. My mind was driving and my emotions were in the back seat.”
It was Friday night, and, she recalled, “The candles were lit, but we didn’t eat.”
Before the night was over, more than 120 people were killed and another 350 wounded in a series of terror attacks that rocked Paris and its suburb of Saint-Denis.
Laurent’s sister, it turned out, was home with her children, and stayed there. But Laurent had trouble reaching her brother, calling him until the wee hours. It wasn’t until about 2 a.m. in New Jersey — Saturday morning in Paris — that she finally spoke to him. He had been at a restaurant across the street from where one of the incidents took place, with his wife and some friends.
“For a long part of the night, he walked,” she said. “Like a number of people who lived in the area, he couldn’t go home because the area was closed off.”
Once she heard from both of her siblings, Laurent felt one overwhelming emotion: “Relief.” “And then I started asking about everyone else, and I called everyone in my family who lives in Paris.”
She learned that a cousin lost his two best friends of 20 years. “It seems everyone there knows somebody who was either killed or wounded.”
On Saturday morning, she headed for the chanting circle that takes place at her synagogue, Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield. “They were a bit surprised to see me I think, but I really needed it.”
Four days later, speaking with NJJN, she was only beginning to recover. “I have never felt so divided. For the past three days, I was living in two time zones and two languages,” she said, getting little sleep, listening to the news in French, speaking with her family here in English. “Part of me was in France.”