I've been to Paris probably close to 15 times in the past 30 years; never has it disappointed me. But until I began living a more Jewishly observant life, I'd missed a huge part of it. Like virtually every other city in Europe, Paris has a "Jewish neighborhood." Like virtually every other city in the world - (if they hadn't been thrown out altogether) the Jews moved out of their old neighborhoods, as they did on the Lower East Side, leaving their stores and delis behind. This neighborhood in Paris, in the Marais, is somewhere in the middle. Plenty of Jews are still there; plenty more have moved on. But the services, and especially the restaurants, groceries and bookstores -- and several synagogues large and small -- they're still there. This is the bookstore where you can buy prayer books and Jewish history and Shoah books as well as candle sticks and other Jewish necessities. It's not far from a primary school whose front entrance includes a tribute to the more than 100 Jewish children seized there during the German occupation of Paris, never to be seen again. Stand outside that door and you can't help but imagine how it must have looked and sounded and felt that day.
On a lighter note though, since we're Jews, there's food. This is one of two competing falafel stands on Rue de Rosiers and the lines were enormous on this hot, sunny Sunday. In addition to residents and Jewish tourists wandering by, whole tour groups arrived to try the native fare. It was quite festive, actually.
Oh, and there's a photo missing here. I was scared to take it. We were approaching the former home of Jo Goldenberg, the legendary Jewish restaurant in the neighborhood, internationally known even before it was bombed in the summer of 1982, killing six and injuring several others. It's gone now, a victim of the times, but as we neared the empty building, police sirens in the ooh-aah sound European sirens make, blasted us, close by. They screeched to a halt outside and a policeman cautiously approached a bag siting on the stoop outside the former deli. Clearly frightened, he gingerly picked up the bag to put into the police van and move it from the area, now so full of tourists and shoppers. Unnerved, my husband and I sped away.
So you don't get a photo. But I can tell you that the cop looked very scared. And just so you don't think this is a lot of melodrama, I was in a synagogue in Vienna EXACTLY one week before it was bombed. I had my young son in his stroller. That next week, a mother died throwing herself on top of her child - in his stroller. So there's more to hanging around a famous Jewish neighborhood that candlesticks and shwarma.
One more thing. It looks as if, again, like the Lower East Side, gentrification may complete the job that first persecution and then upward mobility began. Last year, a story appeared in AFP - the French wire service, with the headline: "Paris Jewish quarter fights tourism, commerce in battle for soul." Fashion retailers and other high-end businesses want to be in what is now the "cool" neighborhood and let some of that cache rub off on them. The Jews? Well they're fighting to keep their institutions and to remain a distinct community, but there's no guarantee they'll succeed. Until then, the Marais, in addition to great coats, shoes, bags and jewelry, remains the "Jewish neighborhood." So get there while you can.