For Paris’s Jewish community, life must go on

The healing inside Paris’s Jewish community goes on. Two months after the deadly hostage crisis that killed four Jews at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, the store has re-opened, a symbolic moment of perseverance and defiance of terror.

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Laurent Mimoun, 49, a co-director of the Hyper Cacher family group, said he had no choice but to re-open the kosher supermarket. ‘We’re here to rebuild everything that is material, knowing that we can’t rebuild lives,’ he said. ‘But we have to do it. We cannot abandon this place, or sell it and let it become something else. It’s important that it returns to what it was, in order to affirm life.’

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Jews set to observe ‘Hyper Sabbath’ for terror victims

Thousands of Jews across France will observe a ‘Hyper Sabbath’ this weekend to commemorate the victims of last month’s Hyper Cacher shootings.

Hyper Cacher victims

Kevin Hagege, the CEO of a Jewish organisation that promotes the spread of the Torah, said: ‘For Charlie Hebdo, everyone bought a copy of their newspaper. For Hyper Cacher, the Jewish community will observe a Hyper Sabbath.’

The commemoration comes as France continues to maintain heightened security at Jewish schools and places of worship following the killings of Phillippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab and Francois-Michel Saada by Islamic extremist Amédy Coulibaly at the Jewish Hyper Cacher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes in January.

The idea of a ‘Hyper Sabbath’ was inspired by Hattab’s final text message, sent just before the attack, which encouraged a friend to observe the Sabbath as much as possible.

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Hattab’s final text

 

The Grand Rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar, and the President of the Israeli Council of Paris, Joel Mergui, have called on Jews worldwide to observe this ‘Hyper Sabbath’.

In an open communiqué, Mergui said he had been ‘literally stunned’ by Hattab’s final text and that the Jewish community needed to ‘respect the testament of this young murdered Jew’ and to ‘honour the memory of the four Jews murdered because they were preparing for the Sabbath.’

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Joel Mergui

 

Hagege said: ‘The victims at Hyper Cacher died whilst doing their shopping for the Sabbath. They respected the Sabbath and through this commemoration we will pay them homage.’

‘The 6th and 7th of February mark one month since the attacks and this is when we say a special prayer for the deceased. Certain people are going to be observing the Sabbath for the first time in their lives.’

The Sabbath, a day of rest when Jews are forbidden from performing manual work, begins on Friday evening and lasts until Saturday evening. Observance of the Sabbath is proscribed by the Ten Commandments in the Jewish faith and also involves the lighting of candles and reading passages from the Torah.

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In addition to maintaining heightened security, French President Francois Hollande recently declared measures cracking down on anti-semitism. Speaking at the Holocaust Memorial in Paris last week on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, he announced that anti-semitism and racism would henceforth be considered aggravating features of a crime.

In a message of solidarity, he said: ‘You, French Jews, your place is here in France. Our country would not be the same if we had to live without you.’

He also noted the findings of a recently published report by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions, which showed that the number of anti-Semitic attacks in France had more than doubled from 423 in 2013 to 851 in 2014.

‘We know what evil can do’

Rachel Rimmer is Jewish and lives in Paris’ 19th arrondissement. Like many, she was shocked by the terror attacks against Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket. I asked for her perspective on recent events.

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What is the atmosphere like currently in the Jewish community?

Like everyone, the Jewish community was horrified by the murders of the editors of Charlie Hebdo, but also by the attacks at the Hyper Cacher, where Jews were attacked for being Jewish. Sadly it’s not the first time this has happened in France: we saw the monstrous murder of Illan Halimi, the killings in Toulouse where soldiers and Jewish children were targeted, and most recently, the rape of a Jewish couple in Créteil.

Certain people are very pessimistic about the future of Jews in France and there’s a sort of trivialisation of antisemitism, as if it isn’t that bad.

Since Charlie, lots of friends have said to me ‘We finally understand what you’ve lived through’, and, at the national level, we note a real desire and realisation of the need to take the necessary measures to fight radical Islam and defend the Republic. The initial steps seem to be in the right direction, but we’ll have to see them through.

Do you feel safe? What do you think of the heightened police presence around Jewish schools and synagogues?

It’s not only the police, it’s the army too. We see soldiers with guns guarding the Jewish schools and synagogues. It’s reassuring to me, especially as the Jewish community is vigilant and the security warnings have been heeded. But we know what evil can do and, if our vigilance falters, we will be exposed again.

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Certain people say that the attacks are relatively isolated and the threat to Jews in France isn’t actually that high. What do you think of this view?

No, I think it’s very severe. Jihadism has progressed, has been emulated, and there are lots of other young people ready to die killing Jews or Westerners in the name of Allah. This summer, during protests of support for Gaza, I was very worried by the cries of hate made against Jews and against Israel. There were calls for murder, communal prayers in Arabic against Jews in the Place de la République! And aside from fanatical extremists, I think the danger also lies in the trivialisation, in the attempt to minimise things, to say that antisemitism in France isn’t that bad.

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Are you tempted to go to Israel?

For my part, not for now. I feel French, because of my education, my values and my language. My children are in a French state school, not a Jewish school, and I feel very integrated.

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Do you know many people who want to go to Israel?

Yes, I know some, but those making their Aliyah have had the decision prepared for a long time. It’s often a choice of identity and religion, which is easier to make if one already speaks Hebrew, as is the case for people who’ve gone to a Jewish school. Personally, I don’t know anyone who’s leaving because of the antisemitism.  Those who are leaving think that the place of all Jews is in Israel, and that their life, and the lives of their children, will be more accomplished there. And it’s true that the children in Israel seem more fulfilled, there’s less pressure at school; as Israel lives in constant danger, one better appreciates in every moment the value of life.

What are the main difficulties for people moving to Israel? Are they welcomed when they arrive? Is it easy to find housing and work?

To make a successful Aliyah, you must speak the language, have a job, and family and friends there. Otherwise it’s very hard, you’re not integrated into Israeli society. The State of Israel offers facilities to new immigrants for a year, but that’s not long enough to master the language and find work. Those who immigrate young and can do their studies in Israel come to find their place. But later in life, it’s hard. I know lots of French people who live in Israel but continue to work in France by making shuttle trips.

Photographs: Telegraph, Reuters, BBC, breakingnews.ie