June 25, 2024
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June 25, 2024
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Merci Beaucoup

I did not even get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Not only did I not see the Eiffel Tower, I also did not see The Lourve, Champs-Elysees, Musee d’Orsay, or the Arc de Triomphe. Though it was my first trip to Paris, I did not see any of the sights that this enchanted city is famous for. What I did see, however, was something that was far more important and meaningful than French tourist attractions.

My inaugural trip to Paris, which was professional in nature, lasted less than twenty-four hours. I landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport, and before I knew it, I was back at the airport early the next morning to catch my return flight to the United States. My trip may have been a whirlwind, but it was magical in a spiritually uplifting way.

It is a tumultuous time for the Jewish community in France. In January, just days after the brutal attack at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in which twelve people were killed, an Islamic extremist entered the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket near Porte de Vincennes and began a day-long siege during which the gunman murdered four Jewish hostages.

In February, approximately 300 graves were desecrated in a Jewish cemetery in Sarre-Union, and there were swastikas drawn on headstones in Jewish cemeteries in Challans and Issoudun.

It was only three years ago that a gunman opened fire in a Jewish school in Toulouse, killing a teacher and three children.

Anti-Semitic attacks in France have risen drastically. In fact, there were twice as many anti-Semitic attacks in 2014 than in 2013.

The situation has deteriorated to the point that Prime Minister Netanyahu made a public plea for French Jews to leave their country and emigrate to Israel.

It was against this frightening backdrop that I made my first journey to France.

My first stop in Paris was not a famed Parisian landmark; rather, it was Les Docks de Paris, a convention center located on the outskirts of the city. It was there that my French spiritual journey began and ended.

Thousands of people filed into the cavernous convention hall with much anticipation and amidst a great deal of security. They were gathering to celebrate the conclusion of the seven-year cycle of the Daf Yomi B’Halacha, in which participants worldwide engage in daily learning of Jewish law. Dirshu, an organization that encourages Torah study in a wide array of subject matters with a particular emphasis on review and retention of the material learned, organized a worldwide siyum celebration, with events being held in the United States, Israel, England, South Africa, and France.

When the world-renowned rabbinic figures featured at the event entered the room and took their places at the tiered-dais, the band began to play and the crowd broke into festive song. People were clamoring to see the rabbis and excitedly taking pictures and videos on their cell phones in order to record the moment for posterity.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, the attendees heard remarks from a number of prominent rabbis. There was a great deal of inspirational singing and dancing throughout the program. It was truly a celebration to behold.

When Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter, the founder of the Dirshu organization, rose to speak, he received a tremendous ovation from the capacity crowd. In my view, that incredible reception was a heartfelt expression of gratitude to a child of Holocaust survivors who brought this momentous event to their community in order to help lift the cloud of uncertainty that has been hovering over them as they struggle to cope with the anti-Semitism that has plagued them.

“The first thing that we have to remember is that God is with us and we cannot be afraid,” Rabbi Hofstedter told the crowd.

The event that day was a true celebration of the resiliency and resurgence of the Jewish people. As members of the French Jewish community grapple with frequent attacks intended to break their spirit, this momentous event gave them a unique opportunity to present a unified front and demonstrate to the world that they will not succumb to the hate.

On the same day as the Dirshu event, residents of Paris went to the polls to cast their votes in the local elections. As Rabbi Avraham Weill, the Chief Rabbi of Toulouse, entered his local polling place, he was stopped and told that he needed to remove his yarmulke. Although the situation was ultimately resolved and he was permitted to vote while wearing his head covering, the mere fact that this occurred is undoubtedly a cause for alarm and a stark reminder of the bigotry that exists.

Europe in 2015 is a far different place than Europe was in the late 1930s and early 1940s, yet the underlying anti-Semitism that was exhibited in horrific and unspeakable ways during the Holocaust exists even today, seventy years later.

Jews should not have to walk through the streets of Paris with the fear that they may be targeted and attacked solely because they are Jews. European Jewry may be alive and well despite Hitler’s ruthless attempt to destroy them, but they are under siege.

In the face of growing anti-Semitism, do European Jews need to remain vigilant at all times? Of course. Should European Jews pick up and flee their homes and countries, as has been suggested by some? The answer, in my opinion, is absolutely not.

After witnessing the mass gathering in Paris, during which French Jews gathered to celebrate their faith in a proud and public fashion, I was reminded just how strong and resolute the Jewish soul is. European Jews steadfastly refuse to allow the racism and hate that they encounter to adversely affect their religious observance or negatively impact their Jewish identity and pride.

Anti-Semitism is gaining traction in Europe and bigotry is rearing its ugly head all too often, yet our Jewish brethren in Europe refuse to succumb to the hate. I felt extremely privileged to observe the unyielding nature of the French Jewish community as they assembled to celebrate Jewish learning and Jewish life, despite the anti-Semitism that lurks in the shadows.

I arrived in Paris with a touch of apprehension. I left Paris with a great degree of spiritual satisfaction. To the French Jewish community, I say “merci beaucoup.”

N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and principal of Paul Revere Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting firm. Visit him on the Web at TroodlersTake.blogspot.com, www.PaulReverePR.com, or www.JewishWorldPR.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @troodler

By N. Aaron Troodler, Esq.

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