‘We’ll always have Paris’

These days, the French are a lot nicer and more grateful for the tourists, says the president of the European Jewish Heritage Tours.

People wait in line for falafel in the Marais, the old Jewish neighborhood in Paris (photo credit: RACHEL KAPLAN / EUROPEAN JEWISH HERITAGE TOURS)
People wait in line for falafel in the Marais, the old Jewish neighborhood in Paris
Special for The Jerusalem Post
The last time I saw Paris
Her heart was warm and gay,
I heard the laughter of her heart In every street café.........
The last time I saw Paris.
Her heart was warm and gay,
No matter how they change her,
I’ll remember her that way.
The above words written by the American lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, reverberated in the ears of many after the terrorist attack on Paris in November.
Those travelers who once journeyed to Paris and found it to be – as the American novelist Ernest Hemingway wrote – a “movable feast,” will return despite the death and the fear that it sparked. Those who have never visited it and who believe that one should not give into terrorism, will take a trip to Paris. To arrive in the City of Light and the City of Love for the first time or the tenth time, is to be touched by beauty.
I write this even as I note that the number of tourists who canceled their trips to Paris in the week following the terrorist attacks on November 13, jumped up 21 percent compared to the same week the previous year. New bookings dropped by 27%, information from travel data company ForwardKeys showed. Bookings for December holiday season were down 13% compared to the same period last year. The US State Department’s “World Wide Travel Alert” warns US citizens of “possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats.”
They will come back to Paris, for the voices and sights of a city sometimes can be heard more clearly when one is away.
“The music of an orchestra is more lucid to an audience than it sounds to the performers on the stage,” wrote Elliot Paul, the author of the historical novel The Last Time I Saw Paris. Actually, according to Rachel Kaplan, president of the European Jewish Heritage Tours, “life in Paris is coming back to normal.”
“Tourists should come now,” said Kaplan, whose network of guides in France and throughout Europe provide cultural and art tours as well as synagogue and kosher tours.
“The French government and police are doing everything possible to secure the major monuments, museums and tourist sites and the French are a lot nicer and more grateful for the tourists who are coming.
They also are going out of their way to be extra friendly,” she added.
After all, France is the top tourist destination in the world, drawing 83 million visitors annually. For American literati, there’s the Paris of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein as well as the US expats.
So when more tourists once again arrive in Paris, they will mosey along the banks of the River Seine; visit galleries and museums; saunter up and down the Champs-Elysees; amber through the Tuileries; ride the elevator to the top the Eiffel Tower; dine at the superb restaurants; and sip a café au lait in thousands of sidewalk cafes, such as Café Royale. And ah, those inviting bistros. This is a city mad about pleasure and passionate about food.
Here, too, created Hugo, Dumas, Flaubert, Balzac, Zola, Baudelaire and other literary dreamers, including famous Jewish authors, such as Marcel Proust and Andre Schwarz-Bart, and film makers Claude Bari and Claude Lanzmann.
France is the third-largest Jewish community in the world, estimated at about 475,000 by the 2014 American Jewish Yearbook.
A little over half live in the capital’s metro area. Obviously, there is a diminishing feeling of security among French Jewry; this year, more than 6,000 French Jews have made aliya to Israel, making France the largest country of origin of olim for the second consecutive year.
For Jews, there is another Paris. It can be found on the Left Bank and on the Right Bank, on the Avenue de Wagram, in the student quarter, on the Boulevard St.-Michel, in the Rue Richer and the Rue des Rosiers.
It is the “Jewish Paris” that I thought about immediately in the days after the attacks – the destinations that I still recall after my many visits talking to those French Jews, many of whom I originally met in Morocco and Algeria and who found a home in France after being forced out of North Africa. These Sephardic Jews revitalized the Jewish community of France and gave it a vibrancy that no terrorist can ever kill.
Although most Jews live in the 16th arrondissement, the number of Jews residing in the 17th is on the rise, according to Leon Masliah, former secretary general of the Paris Consistoire and honorary executive director of the Consistoire Central of France. He notes that more Jews now are moving to the Paris suburbs.
I recall my walk through the Rue des Rosiers, the heart of what was the old Jewish neighborhood, the section called the Marais, also known as the Pletzel, located on the site of the 13th century ghetto of Paris, once named the Juiverie.
On the many trips this journalist made to Paris, one of my stops was at the former Chez Jo Goldenberg (kosher style) restaurant, at 7 Rue des Rosiers. Goldenberg was the “place to be seen,” visited by high-ranking government officials who could be interviewed there. By last count, more kosher restaurants are open in Paris than in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago combined (three highly recommended kosher restaurants are Nini, Chez Francois and Les Fille du Boucher).
Considering the terrorist attacks in January at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket and the November 13 massacre, I thought of the former Chez Jo Goldenberg, which also was attacked by terrorists in 1982 and which, despite the grenade and machine gun attack that murdered six there, did not close. Likewise, Hyper Cacher, located in the 12th arrondissement, near Porte de Vincennes, remains open.
“All Jewish sites are open,” said Kaplan.
While real estate in the Pletzel turns over more and more to boutiques and shops, Jewish stores still exist there, as well as noted synagogues. Among the latter is Agoudas Hakehilis, 10 Rue Pavee, 75004, austere on the outside and beautiful inside, designed in 1913 by Hector Guimard, the famous art nouveau architect of the Metro.
Whenever I am in Paris, I walk over to Temple des Vosges, which fronts on Place des Vosges, (14 Place des Vosges), a must for the visitor. Place de Vosges remains one of the most beautiful squares in all of Paris. Victor Hugo lived at No.6; the house is now a museum.
Another famous synagogue in Paris is located at 44 Rue de la Victoire in the 9th arrondissement, also referred to as the Rothschild Synagogue. Built in 1874 in neo-Romanesque style, it is lavishly decorated with marble and stained glass windows and is dominated by opulent candelabras.
Obviously, with such a large Jewish community, there are dozens of synagogues and oratoires. One Orthodox group coming to Paris soon plans to visit Synagogue des Tournelles, also known as Gustave Eiffel’s Paris Synagogue, related Kaplan, who explained that her company forwards their passports to the Consistoire and then to the Minister of Interior – standard procedure for several years now.
Jewish artists Soutine, Pascin, Chagall, Pissaro, Modigliani, Mane-Katz, Benn and Lipchitz worked and created masterpieces in France; many of their works are exhibited in Parisian museums.
The Musee d’art et d’histoire du Judaisme, is located in the Hotel de Saint-Aignan, at 71 Rue du Temple. This museum of Jewish art and history is housed in one of Paris’ most palatial mansions.
The Memorial of the Unknown Jewish Martyr, dedicated to the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, is located at 17 Rue Geoffroy l’Asnier.
Whenever I go to Paris, I ramble through shops and courtyards; much history exists in the city – even in unlikely places. For example, the Hotel de Castile, 37 Rue Cambon, between Place de la Concorde and Place Vendome, is the building in which Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, wrote his famous tract The Jewish State.
The “romance of Paris and other parts of France is still relevant,” declared Ms. Kaplan, adding for example, that she “gets requests for weddings almost daily.”
Why not? As Rick tells Ilsa in the iconic movie Casablanca, “We’ll always have Paris.”
The writer, a travel writer and lecturer, is the author of the just-published Klara’s Journey, A Novel (Marion Street Press); The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond, (Globe Pequot Press); and A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe, 3rd Edition (Pelican Publishing Company).
Follow him on twitter @bengfrank