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July 8, 2015 3:48 pm

A Visit to the Jews of Cannes

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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Cannes. Photo: Wikipedia.

Cannes. Photo: Wikipedia.

I spent this past weekend on an annual family vacation to the South of France. As I have written before, Cannes is one of the most beautiful and magical cities in the world. It is simply amazing.

Naturally on our minds was the widely reported rampant anti-Semitism in the country (which hosts the world’s third largest Jewish community, with an estimated 500,000 Jews). Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other government officials have called upon the Jews of France to move to Israel, and in 2014, for the first time, France topped the list of countries from which immigrants moved to Israel (with about 7,000 people making aliyah).

During the visit, I attended services at the largest synagogue in the city, Association Cultuelle Israélite Cannes. (On the same day, newspapers published headlines like ‘French synagogues batten hatches after Lyon jihad horror.’) 

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The shul was packed with a mixture of Sephardim and Ashkenazis. It was largely French Jews visiting from other parts of the country. (There’s also a large Chabad presence in the city.)

On Friday night, hundreds gathered for a communal meal, with families, singles, and elderly people eating great food. It was a warm, welcoming environment where there wasn’t a moment of quiet, Hebrew songs were sung non-stop, and kids were running everywhere.

Many of those I met feel tremendous solidarity with Israel, make regular visits, and maintain second homes in the Jewish State. They admitted to not feeling safe in Paris (ordering food from the kosher stores instead of visiting them), and largely agreed that there’s not much of a Jewish future in France.  Yet, this is a proud, strong, committed community that I think is hesitant to “run away.”

They also spoke of the realities of life. As they explained “We have businesses, families – we can’t just pick up and go.” It’s not easy to pick up and go – but I believe the estimates that half of France’s Jews will be gone by 2030. In multiple discussions, I couldn’t find a single advocate for a Jewish future in France. 

Security was very visible. Even in the uber-wealthy city of Cannes, the synagogue’s entrance was lined with heavily armed soldiers. Upon entrance to the courtyard, private security guards searched those who arrived. And yet, many people wore Jewish star necklaces, and the multiple kosher restaurants in Cannes were packed. (My favorite, Cote Croisette Kosher, has a warm family running it – but be warned, they do not speak English or Hebrew.) There’s a kosher butcher, and even the local “casino” supermarket on Boulevard D’alsace has quite a large kosher section. 

This is a community that worries about the future of Jews in France. Interestingly, for American Jewry, assimilation and intermarriage are the biggest threats. But in France, these are hardly mentioned. Anti-Semitism and security are their concerns.

While Cannes remains a gorgeous vacation destination, the future of France’s Jews is still very much an unknown.

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