Monday, November 21, 2005

Jewish Life In France

Common sense will tell you that the combination of longstanding European anti-Semitism and Muslim immigration does not bode well for Jews living in France. In fact, French Jews have been leaving the country in increasing numbers.

Romain Barthel, the principal of a private Jewish secondary school in Paris, gives a tour to a visiting journalist:
Mr. Barthel walks me through the school, which was built three years ago to what he calls "new specifications for a new reality."

"All of our windows are made with glass both bomb- and bullet-proof; there are security cameras in all the common rooms," he says. "You will also notice there is no sign outside of the school that could single it out as a Jewish place."

In the past few years, Jews in Canada may have become familiar with some security measures in synagogues, notably around the high holidays, but nothing approaching this level of stringency.

Mr. Barthel explains the buddy system instituted at the Benvenuti school for children both arriving and leaving the premises. The students must travel in a pack and are not allowed to wear visible skullcaps or Stars of David anywhere but inside the school. They are also discouraged from dressing in a manner that Mr. Barthel calls "Shalala," meaning that they asked to refrain from dressing in a style which in North American parlance might be termed "Jappy."

"The Diesel jeans, the tight bomber jackets, these things can also make them look like Jews," he says. "They must look more quiet now, for safety."

Mr. Barthel is the father of two young children. Last year, his children's school bus, belonging to a Jewish school in Epinay-sur-seine, a northern suburb of Paris, was set on fire. "The bus was empty when it was attacked, but still, nobody did anything about it, not the police, not the government."

He says the Jews of France have increasingly felt as if they have had to take safety into their own hands. "For us now, this means one of two things: bunker in with bomb-proof glass, or leave.