Paris presidential residence .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When I told my friends that I was being sent to Paris on assignment, I saw a certain look crossing every face. How should I put this delicately? They were afraid.
“Are you sure it’s safe,” they wanted to know.
“Yes,” I replied. “I’m going from the airport to the convention center and back to the airport.”
“Okay,” they said, somewhat mollified.
“As long as it’s safe.”
Welcome to Paris 2015.
The city of lights on the edge of the River Seine has become a hotbed of Islamic terrorism that is manifested in oh-so-many- ways. The Jews of France no longer feel welcome in the world capital of fashion and good food.
This was not my first visit to magical Paris. I was there in 2010. At the time, I felt safe enough to stroll through the streets with a kippa on my head, to ride the Metro, to visit the Eiffel Tower and to even take a boat ride on the Seine. Unfortunately, the illusion of security exists no more.
As a child recently asked his mother upon catching sight of an obviously Jewish man walking through a hostile Parisian arrondissement – “what’s he doing here Mommy? Doesn’t he know that he will be killed?” Welcome to Paris 2015.
Matters came to a head recently with the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, followed by the shocking attack and subsequent day-long siege on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in which four Jews were senselessly murdered. It seemed like Europe was standing poised on the cusp of disaster. And then more than three million people took to the streets in a spontaneous display of outrage.
Suddenly everyone was Charlie.
Yet, though the outrage was properly displayed when it came to fighting for freedom of speech, one couldn’t claim the same regarding the terrorist attack on Paris’ Jews. Everyone might have been Charlie, but it was equally as obvious that not everyone identified with the Jews of France.
It is against this frightening backdrop that the Jews of Paris recently gathered to celebrate Torah learning and all it represents in their lives.
Welcome to Paris 2015.
Paris appears the same. The same graceful architecture of buildings, roads and boulevards steeped in culture, the same museums and landmarks, the same corner cafes serving tiny cups of coffee to passerby, the same River Seine winding through the city.
On the surface, everything seems fine.
Les Docks de Paris is a convention center somewhat akin to the Javits Center in New York or the fairgrounds in Tel Aviv. Used for auto shows, large business events and conventions hosting thousands, Le Docks de Paris was recently utilized for an entirely different purpose, as the Jews of Paris gathered to reaffirm their very essence.
Under the aegis of Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter, the Dirshu organization has succeeded in creating an unstoppable force of Torah renaissance around the globe with hundreds of thousands of Jews taking part in one or another of a wide range of daily Torah programs offered. While in Paris, I participated in the celebration of the completion of Dirshu’s signature seven-year Daf HaYomi B’Halacha, Mishnah Berurah – Jewish law study program. The sense of excitement was palpable as the keynote speakers of the Orthodox Jewish world stood up to address the crowd. There was a sense of great achievement and an underlying promise for continuance. You were able to feel it in the room, in the very atmosphere. The people in attendance were clearly growth oriented and serious about life.
But there was an additional, somewhat intangible feeling coursing through Les Docks de Paris.
A sense of pride in who they are – a sense of ethics and morality – a sense of being surrounded by the finest of French Jews – and a sense of pride in their ability to live life as Torah-observant Jews in a time of such uncertainty.
The crowd was excited by what they have accomplished over seven years of daily learning, while ambitiously contemplating future Torah study. They stood united against the background of the worrisome political situation and the growing danger in the streets. They expressed indignation when Charlie Hebdo was attacked and cried for their brethren when four fellow Jews were laid to rest – murdered on the Sabbath eve for the crime of being Jews. And now they gathered to express their belief in God and their readiness to study His laws.
They were eager, jubilant and filled with a sense of mission.
I heard many words and messages. Powerful speeches and touching stories. And as I looked around Les Docks de Paris, I knew that the message I heard that evening would resound within my heart for days to come, as I recall a convention center in Paris filled with Jews proudly proclaiming their belief in God and their readiness to stand up for what they know to be true.
The gathering was poignant, authentic, genuine and emotional, its message triumphant.
“Je suis Dirshu.”
“Je suis proud Jews of France.”
And perhaps most importantly “Je suis Torah.”
Welcome to Paris 2015 – where the battle is being fought with graceful perseverance, a link to eternity and a refusal to surrender.The writer is a rabbi and the author of 20 books, runs a boys’ choir based out of Jerusalem, writes a regular column for the Hamodia International Magazine and lectures around the world. He can be reached at [email protected] gmail.com.