Wednesday, September 20th | 29 Elul 5777

Close

Be in the know!

Get our exclusive daily news briefing.

Subscribe
January 28, 2014 1:50 am

Jews of Europe: Don’t Make Waves

avatar by David Werdiger

Email a copy of "Jews of Europe: Don’t Make Waves" to a friend

Security guards patrol near a synagogue in Paris. Photo: Anach Infos.

There is an old joke about a Jew who died and was condemned to hell, but in an act of mercy was given a choice of three alternatives. Behind the first door, he saw flames shooting forth and thousands of people screaming in pain amidst the fire. He opened the second door and there was a huge crowd slaving away at a large rock-pile, being whipped as they hammered the large boulders. Behind the third door, he saw a large tranquil lake, and immediately chose that option.

In an instant, he found himself with thousands of others, up to his chin in a vile, watery substance. The others were chanting “Don’t make waves, don’t make waves!”

My recent visit to Paris (after a few years) and Istanbul (for the first time) was an eye-opener in terms of how the local Jewish community deals with the changing environment in their home countries.

We stayed in the 4th district in Paris, just a short walk from the ‘pletzel’ – what used to be the very Jewish area of Rue de Rosiers. But the street is a far cry from its heyday, with just a handful of kosher stores, and has been subsumed into the broader Marais district rather than maintaining its distinctive Jewish flavor. There are only a small number of visibly Jewish people – mostly Charedim.

Related coverage

September 19, 2016 6:32 am
0

Israel Is High on Medical Marijuana

JNS.org - Google CEO Eric Schmidt believes Israeli entrepreneurs succeed because they challenge authority, question everything and don’t play by the rules. “The...

The advice I received from the outset was that I not wear a kippa in public in both Paris and Istanbul, so I walked around everywhere in a baseball cap, eventually buying a decent-looking kasket from a fantastic hat-stand near our hotel.

After a serious bout of shopping in the middle of town, we went for lunch at Izaaki (having done the touristy things on a previous visit, this one was about shopping and eating). My wife wasn’t confident in my navigation ability, nor as to whether the place was of a suitable standard of kashrut, but as we walked in we were reassuringly greeted by the sight of men in kippot at a handful of tables. And as we sat down to lunch, we started to notice the ritual: cap replaced with kippa upon entry into the restaurant, and the reverse before leaving. We discussed this with the couple seated next to us at another restaurant – the outstanding Darjeeling (where we couldn’t get a table until 10.30pm). “We have all become baseball players,” he remarked with a sigh.

For the Jews, France seems headed in just one direction, and it’s not a good one. There are approximately 500,000 Jews in France (nearly 60% of them in Paris), which by any standards is a significant Jewish population, and one with a long and proud history. But do the math: the Muslim population of France is estimated at 10-12 percent – around 7 million out of 65 million, and growing at a much faster rate than the general population. This is already making lives uncomfortable for Jews, and the climate is unlikely to become any friendlier.

While France’s position as a secular, socialist democracy is not in dispute (and indeed will continue to be a source of conflict with the growing Muslim population), Turkey is another story entirely. In between learning how to correctly pronounce Atatürk and Erdoğan, it became clear that the latter is in the process of undoing all the good work of the former.

The 23,000 Jews of Turkey, most of whom live in Istanbul, have already come to grips with living in a Muslim country. The few remaining synagogues are discreetly situated in small side-streets with minimal signage, and heavy security. If you are a stranger, you will not be let in. Period. No matter how visibly Jewish you look (after removing your baseball cap). We were assisted by the generous hospitality of some friends – parents of a family who immigrated to Australia in search of a better life for their children. And so after handing in our passports and going through the metal detector, we were allowed to visit.

Amazingly, the services on a lazy Monday morning were very well attended – easily 60 men, young and old. I was told that it is full for Shabbat services. Each of the seats had a hard-hat underneath – a safety feature adopted following the bombing of a synagogue some years ago. Inside, the men were in talit and tefillin, the Rabbi and Chazan in robes reminiscent of a Greek Orthodox church. But outside, they easily melded into their surroundings. In these parts, the custom is to place the mezuzah on the inside of the door.

We went through the markets visiting all the good places to shop, and in one store we were bargaining with the owner, and I commented to my wife in Hebrew indicating the price I wanted to pay. Our host did all the talking in Turkish, after which the owner remarked to me “shesh me’ot” (six hundred), confirming the price. “Funny, you don’t look Jewish,” I thought.

Many of the younger members of the community have moved on – to Israel, the U.S., and in the case of our friends Australia – but a small number remain. They stay for the comforts and traditions of home; most are well-off financially and enjoy a standard of living that would not be accessible to them in other countries. Despite where Turkey is headed politically, they do not feel there is an imperative to leave or impending disaster for the Jews. Instead, they have made adjustments to their lifestyle and are not conspicuous in their Judaism, and that seems to work.

Having grown up in Australia where freedom of religion and freedom of expression are taken for granted, I appreciate what I have even more. Back home, I can choose to make waves or not to make waves. But I have a choice.

David Werdiger is a writer, community activist, technology entrepreneur, and public speaker. He’s involved in several not-for-profits, and has an interest in Jewish community, philanthropy, education, and continuity. You can connect with David on his personal blog siteLinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Share this Story: Share On Facebook Share On Twitter Email This Article

Let your voice be heard!

Join the Algemeiner
  • jacob kind

    Daniel Birnbaum: i have an old joke that 70% of statistics are accurate. Do you live in France? All your statistics are meaningless. i lived there for 8 years, some of my family still do. some left as they couldnt walk in the street with a kippa. my daughter went there to a seminary that my father in law ran, and although not in a kippa she did “look” jewish [with her friends] and was punched in her jaw by an arab for no reason at all. she had to have surgery. police of course “chased’ the suspect…no arrest.
    some areas are peaceful. agreed . even between jews and arabs. but north of paris [where the car torchings took place] you cannot go there at all.
    David Werdiger slandering?? unfortunately not.

  • Yossi J

    Wonder what the former president of the European Jewish Congress would say about this: “France’s Jewish community is seeing an unprecedented exodus … the continuing tide of anti-Semitism …” http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/176949#.UvYRzvkmlAg
    Sad to see such a beautiful Jewish community under attack

  • Daniel Birnbaum

    David Werdiger’s portrait of France is a casual smear. Werdiger misinforms his readers: France has 600,000 Jews (not 500,000) and 4.2 million Muslims(according to the demographer Michèle Tribalat), not 7 scary million Muslims. Werdiger omits to say (because he does not know)that only 25% practice their religion, (according to the anthropologist Emmanuel Todd). The North African population — much of which is Berber and has no quarrel with Israel — is not growing, contrary to Werdiger; its birth rate is 2.0, barely the replacement figure. “France is the only country in the world in which Jewish-Muslim co-existence works” (Pierre Besnainou, former president of the European Jewish Congress”). When Algemeiner fails to distance itself from contributors like Werdiger, it slanders France, and in Judaism, not only slander of individuals, but also of groups, is forbidden.

  • Sandra

    Did you see the video circulating this week on facebook with thousands French people walking through the streets of Paris, yelling, Jews, out of France, Jews —you, France is not for you..
    Its seems that Europe will always be Europe. But how long before this seeps to rest of the free world?
    G-d have mercy.

  • Didn’t think you’d post a true explanation of things, ha!

  • Eric R.

    France – the land of Dreyfus, Drancy and DeGaulle (the notorious anti-Semite) – would love nothing more than to be Judenrein. And if that means that someday they have to live under Islamic law, it will not bother the French.

    In a lot of ways, I am sadder about Turkey, because over the last 600 years, it was the most tolerant old world country toward Jews. To see it now run by an Islamofascist regime drowning in psychotic, paranoid Jew-hatred means that all of the old world – Muslim and Christian is finished – evil and bankrupt – or as the acronym goes – FUBAR.

Algemeiner.com