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September 5, 2018 1:57 pm

‘We Won’t Be Collateral Victims,’ Jewish Leader Tells French President Macron During Special Service at Paris Synagogue

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French President Emmanuel Macron listens to speeches at a pre-Rosh Hashanah service in the Paris Great Synagogue. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy sits on the left. Photo: Reuters / Yoan Valat.

French President Emmanuel Macron was warmly greeted by more than one thousand worshippers at the Great Synagogue in Paris on Tuesday night, as he arrived for a special service honoring Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year, which commences on Sunday.

The first sitting French president to attend the pre-Rosh Hashanah ceremony, Macron, who wore a black kippah, spent much of the time listening to the concerns of French Jewish leaders about rising antisemitism in the country.

To the disappointment of some those present, however, Macron did not address the gathering, citing the core French constitutional principle of “laïcité” — which guarantees a strict separation between religion and state — as the reason.

Among those present alongside Macron were the chief rabbi of France, Haim Korsia, the president of the Consistoire Central — a key religious organization — Joel Mergui, and the chief rabbi of Paris, Michel Gugenheim. Also present were leading actors Francis Huster and Michel Boujenah, Father Louis-Marie Coudray, who is in charge of relations with the Jewish community for the Conference of Bishops of France, and the bishop of Nanterre, Matthieu Rougé. French Senate President Gerard Larcher and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo attended as well, as did former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was warmly applauded by the crowd.

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Despite the greetings for a “sweet new year” and the several jars of honey presented to Macron as a gift, the speeches at the event highlighted the continuing threat posed by antisemitism, particularly among the Muslim population, toward French Jews. Rabbi Korsia even compared Macron to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, saying, “We entrust to him our hopes and our troubles without him answering us: And yet we know that someone hears us.”

Praising Macron for having attended the funeral of Mireille Knoll — the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor murdered in an antisemitic attack in her Paris apartment on March 23 — Korsia added that the president would likely leave the synagogue with his pockets “full of the little notes” asking for help, similar to those that are traditionally inserted between the bricks of the Western Wall.

In a speech described by some French media outlets as “blunt,” Joel Mergui declared that French Jews refused to become the “collateral victims” of broader French apathy in the fight against Islamism, which he described as “gnawing away at the 21st century.”

Referring to the phenomenon of French Jews moving into neighborhoods with larger Jewish populations in order to escape antisemitic violence and hostility, Mergui said the process was even more disturbing for the younger generation of Jews who “do not understand why they have to leave the neighborhoods of their childhood.”

Mergui also appealed for Jewish rituals like circumcision and the ritual slaughter of animals to be guaranteed as “obvious freedoms,” rather than being consigned to the “margins of the law.”

“Jews do not ask for any special treatment, no special privilege, but the rigorous application of individual freedom,” Mergui stated. He added that he hoped Macron would visit Israel “soon,” urging the French president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.

Tuesday night’s ceremony at the Great Synagogue came just two days after another brutal antisemitic assault in Paris. On Sunday morning, at approximately 3 a.m., a young Jewish student was attacked as he walked home from a nightclub. The two assailants ripped off the victim’s Star of David necklace and proceeded to beat and rob him, abusing him as a “dirty Jew.”

Sammy Ghozlan, the president of the National Office of Vigilance against Antisemitism (BNVCA), told Le Parisien that the victim was left “deeply shocked” by the assault.

“Suffering from multiple bruises, he took refuge in a hotel from where he was able to contact his mother,” Ghozlan said. He urged the French authorities to identify and prosecute the assailants, noting that the attack — which occurred on the Alexandre III footbridge — was likely to have been filmed by CCTV cameras.

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