Some Paris Jews reconsider their future

Some Paris Jews reconsider their future

Parisians outside the Bataclan concert hall after the terrorist attacks, Nov. 13.
Parisians outside the Bataclan concert hall after the terrorist attacks, Nov. 13.

PARIS — Babette and Sasha Bergman lead what many would consider a charmed life.

Both Jewish high-tech professionals in their 30s — they met while working at Google’s European headquarters in Ireland — the Bergmans settled in this capital city shortly ahead of the birth of their now four-year-old daughter, Daniella.

On weekends, they enjoy entertaining friends in their spacious apartment in the 17th arrondissement — an upscale and heavily Jewish district where the anti-Semitic incidents common throughout the rest of Paris are more rare. Many Jews in the poorer quarters say this area is the ivory tower of upper-middle class French Jewry.

Living on a street with three synagogues and near many kosher shops, observing the Sabbath and keeping kosher is far easier in Paris, where some 350,000 Jews live, than it was when they were living in Dublin, says Sasha, who was born in Russia and grew up in the Netherlands.

But in the wake of the jihadist attacks that killed at least 129 in Paris last week, even the Bergmans are finding it increasingly difficult to imagine a future for themselves in a country where Islamist terrorism and violence — including attacks that target the Jewish community — are putting wind into the sails of a rising far Right.

“I love this city, I love my country, but after the initial shock from the attacks and the pain, my first thought was regret that we decided to settle here,” said Babette, who is Sephardi and grew up in Lyon. Two of her three sisters moved recently to Israel.

In January, soldiers with automatic rifles were posted regularly outside the Bergmans’ building to guard an adjacent synagogue. It was a precaution taken following the slaying by Islamists of 12 people at the offices of the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper, followed by two other terrorist attacks, including one at a kosher supermarket, Hyper Cacher, in eastern Paris that killed four people. The supermarket attack came about three years after an Islamist killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France.

“We pass them by sometimes with Daniella,” Babette said of the soldiers guarding Jewish institutions. “We’re grateful, but it’s not a normal way to live.”

Two days after Friday’s deadly attack, Babette’s family from Lyon and Israel gathered in Paris for a cousin’s wedding at the historic Synagogue des Tournelles in the Marais, the city’s historic Jewish district.

After the ceremony, the congregants left the synagogue quickly, mostly to make room for the next wedding — there were four Jewish wedding ceremonies planned there that day — but also because some guests said they felt uncomfortable gathering among groups of Jews at a time when terrorists believed to have been involved in the attacks are still at large.

“We’re not too scared to come here and continue our lives as usual,” said Ness Berros, a French Jew in his 20s who attended the wedding. “But we’re too scared to feel exactly at ease right now.”

The synagogue is under heavy guard by soldiers and police officers. Security was even tighter at another event the same day at the Synagogue de la Victoire, also known as the Grand Synagogue of Paris, at a ceremony honoring the victims of Friday’s attacks. The road leading to that synagogue was cordoned off as the participants were patted down for concealed weapons.

Outside Jewish institutions, many of which had suspended their activities following the attacks, streets usually bustling with tourists and locals were much emptier than they otherwise would have been on a sunny Sunday afternoon in November.

In Pavillons-sous-Bois, a northeastern suburb, Sandra Sebbah, a Jewish mother of four, says the soldiers outside her children’s Jewish school “might as well be cardboard cutouts” because “they won’t stop an attack by the people with the kind of determination we saw.” Sebbah said she cannot leave France because of her husband’s work, but encourages her children to “live somewhere else, like normal people and not like this, where I am afraid every minute they’re not home — especially when they’re at school.”

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