The Social Palace


Here is an introduction to the Familistère, or Social Palace, an industrial and communal residential complex in Northern France based on 19th century utopian socialist ideals.

Originally trained as a locksmith, Jean-Baptiste Godin started making iron cast stoves in 1840. In 1842 he discovered the Fourierist ideal of associating capital, talent and labour. As his factory prospered, his professional success went hand in hand with his social and political commitment to fundamental reform of society. His intention was to improve housing for workers, but also ‘production, trade, supply, education, and recreation’, all the facets of life of a modern worker. As a result from 1846 he developed the Familistère as a self-contained community within the town of Guise.


The full site with the foundry was about eighteen acres, on either side of the River Oise. In addition to a large factory for cast-iron manufacture, three large buildings, each four stories high, were constructed to house all the workers and their families, with each family having apartments of two or three rooms. The main building consisted of three rectangular blocks joined at the corners. Each of these blocks had a large central court covered with a glass roof under which children could play in all weather.


At the back of the main block was a nursery, a pouponnat (or infant school) for toddlers and children up to age four, the bambinat for children 4-6. Opposite the main block was a building containing a theater for concerts and dramatic entertainments, and a primary school for children over six

A separate block, known as the economat, contained various shops, refreshment and recreation rooms of various kinds, and grocery stores for the purchase of basic goods. They were purchased at wholesale prices and sold with little mark-up, with workers manning the shops. There were also communal laundry rooms, baths and swimming pool, in a separate building on the opposite bank, where water was heated by the factory.


By 1872, when a correspondent from the American Harper’s Magazine visited the complex, 900 workers (including women) and their families were housed there, for a total population of about 1200.

The experience lasted for just over 100 years but in 1968 the cooperative association for the Social Palace was dissolved, and the apartments were sold at moderate prices. Nowadays the site is open for visitors and tours. On May 1st the town organises celebrations and the site can be visited for a minimal sum.

(written with the help of Wikipedia)

Teikei the French Way


Teikei is a system of community-supported agriculture in Japan, where consumers purchase food directly from farmers. When these groups emerged in the 1960s there was a general climate of environmental issues and distrust of the quality of food in the conventional food system.

It is quite similar to community-supported agriculture In the western world. In France the name is AMAP and a local group was created a few weeks ago.

The farmer is a young lady who joined her parents’ farm a couple of years ago but has chosen to grow organic produce. To begin with there are 25 individuals or families in our group but it is expected to grow to 35 fairly rapidly.

Each of us has signed a contract with the farmer and we get a basket of organic fresh produce, complete with eggs, each week. Every Thursday we go to a house in my hometown where the produce are brought by the farmer and distributed by two group members.

The first distribution was today. Here is what we got:
– 1 kg of rosabelle potatoes – a variety of red potatoes
– 1 kg of Swiss chard
– 1 bunch of carrots
– 2 lettuces
– 1 bunch of parsley
– half a pound of red currants
– 6 eggs

Ultra/Far/Extreme-Right in My School

It is no secret that France has a history of all sorts of very right-wing parties but it is one thing to know this and quite another to invigilate their offspring during an exam.

As most of my readers know I work in a French state school and part of our job, especially at the end of the school year, is to supervise candidates during examinations. The students in the exam rooms are ours as well as students from private schools that are totally independent and have no agreements with the French state.

There is such a school 30 kms from here. It is an all-girl school run by the Society of Saint Pius X. The SSPX is notorious for supporting allegedly extreme right-wing political positions, particularly in France, and statements by some of its members have been widely interpreted as antisemitic.

Each year a group of girls come to our school to take exams. Last week, a colleague and I supervised them during a science exam. Most of these girls have family names that indicate that their ancestors were members of the French nobility. Being curious after the exam I took a photo of their names and “googled” them.

One surname was associated with an obscure French political party (Parti français chrétien) led by a “Zionist anti-Semite” (someone who believes that all Jews ought to live in Israel only) . One name was linked to the founder of the Croix-de-feu, a French far right league of the Interwar period. Another led to one of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s right arms.

Needless to say I felt uneasy in front of these very polite and well-behaved young girls who are brought up to abhor most of the things I believe and defend.

History of far-right movements in France

Commemorating the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup





The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup is the largest planned round up of Jews by the Nazis in occupied France during WW2. On July 16 and 17, 1942, 13,152 Jews were arrested with the help of the French police. This roundup accounted for more than a quarter of the 42,000 Jews sent from France to Auschwitz in 1942, of whom only 811 came home at the end of the war.

In my hometown this event is commemorated on the sunday closest to the event. French officials, war veterans, ordinary citizens and members of our tiny Jewish community gather in front of a monument erected in memory of the Warsow ghetto to recall this shameful event.

There is some music: the French national anthem, the French partisan song, Zog Nit Keynmol and Yerushalaim Shel Zahav. This is followed by speeches: usually one by the chairman of our community and one by a French official on behalf of the government.

The photos above were taken yesterday on the spot. I only dared to take one during the commemoration itself and went back in the afternoon to take some more. The sun was high in the sky so the photos are not very good but I hope they give you an idea of the event and on the location.

Sanary-sur-Mer: Land for Refugees




With the rise of Nazism in the early 1930s, a great number of German and Austrian writers and intellectuals left their countries especially after the Nazi book burning campaign.

A lot of them settled in Sanary-sur- Mer, at one point between 1933 and 1944, a then small French village in the South of France, 30 miles from Marseille. Among them the proportion of Jewish intellectuals was high.

On arriving, many exiles stayed at the Hôtel de la Tour before finding a place to rent. The Café de Lyon is one of the restaurants patronized by foreign exiles in the 1930s.

Action vs Kvetching: Update


Some of you may remember my Action vs Kvetching post where I complained that French civil servants would now get fewer days off for the Jewish holidays.

At the time I sent a few emails round. Apparently, someone else had noticed this and had brought it to the attention of the Minister in charge of Civil Service. Thus I got an email today from the French Chief Rabbinate with an attachment from the Ministry of Civil Service which rectified the previous regulation. We will definitely get two days for Shavout and Rosh Hashanah.

Action vs Kvetching


Dear readers, you nearly got a kvetching post where I lamented the fact that the French administration changed the rules concerning – changed as in “cut down” – the days non-Christian civil servants like myself can take off work for their own religious holidays. But then I was interrupted by a phone call and have not had time to resume the post.

Therefore I decided not to go into the boring details here but to send emails to the Chief Rabbinate and a few Jewish organisations instead. I realize that, between the Chagim and Shabbat, this is not a perfect time yet I was so irrate I felt I wanted to do something about it.

I don’t plan to post a full weekly review tomorrow as this blog, along with most of the other blogs I read, has been quiet this week however I still can’t resist sharing a few links.

Making our Days Count: Thoughts on Counting the Omer by rabbi Marc D. Angel

Time to uncover the matzahs, a question raised by Mrs.S.

Bitter to Sweet Radish Salad, Leora shares more recipes than she announces

National Identity


You may or may not know that the French government has launched a debate about “National Identity” in this country. Unfortnately this has turned into a fiasco with numerous “linguistic” blunders from the right and lots of ingenous comments from the left.

First the debate has been marred by the Swiss vote against the building of minarets and the issue seems to have focused mainly on the Muslim inhabitants of France. As someone who teaches to a vast majority of students whose ancestors were all French I can testify that their “national identity” isn’t always clear and inborn.

Then it worries me that the people who make themselves heard in this debate can only see things in terms of black and white. France as a whole isn’t turning into an Islamic nation, neither should we be naive about what is taking place in some areas of France where Islamic groups which do not share the values of the Western world are free to prosper.

One of the problems with France and its treatment of religion is not so much that it is a secular country where “church and state” are totally separate but that this has led most French people to be completely ignorant about religion.

As a result any religious sign is seen as a proof that you are at best an obscurantist at worst a fanatic, whatever your religion. As they are unable to interpret these signs French people either worry about them (mostly people on the right) or dicard them as part of an exotic heritage that should be preserved (people on the left). I agree that I am oversimplifying here but this is for the sake of clarity.

Identity is not only inherited, it is mostly taught. France has a strong history, filled with strong historical figures. It has integrated lots of different people over the centuries and is certainly still capable of doing so. The solution is certainly not to teach less history but rather more and also to have leaders who are able to identify what is acceptable or not in a religious expression of one’s faith.

I welcome any comment- especially if you disagree – and would love to read what you think about what constitutes one’s national identity and how yours was forged.

French Jewish Resistance


Numerous Jews took part in the various movements of the French Resistance during WW2. However some chose to join the M.J.S. (Mouvement de Jeunesse Sioniste) to bring specific help to the Jews that needed it.

Paul Giniewski who was an active member of the M.J.S. during the war has just written a book about this organization and its activities.

Indeed unlike the majority of the French population, French Jews, as well as the foreign Jews who had fled Germany and other Nazi-occupied territories, needed forged papers, hiding places and money to stay alive.

The movement was set up in 1942 and its creators saw their mission as being Jewish rescuers of Jews. They established their headquarters in the maquis in a chalet near Grenoble and joined forces with other Jewish rescue groups to smuggle Jewish adults and children into Switzerland and Spain.

They also worked with other French Resistance organizations, considering the liberation of France as part of their duty as French citizens. In fact Paul Giniewski recalls that he forged papers for French partisans who were also policemen. What’s more the organization occasionally got help from loyal French priests. Thus when he and other Jewish partisans were arrested by the French militia, a local priest intervened before they were executed and they were freed.

The M.J.S. was made up of right and left-wing Jews, some were religious while others saw themselves as atheists. Rabbi René Kapel was their chaplain and offered spiritual help along with lectures about Jewish history and Judaism.

Unfortunately the book which recounts these events, Une Résistance juive. Grenoble : 1943-1945, has not been published yet but I am very eager to read it.

A Step In The Right Direction?


A group of sixty French MPs is asking for an enquiry about the increasing number of women who are wearing a burqa in France. They request for the Parliament to set up a committee which would make proposals on how to combat such attire which they view as a threat to individual liberties.

Thus, recently, a French mayor refused to perform a wedding where the woman was wearing a burqa, stating that there was no way he could know if the bride was who she was claiming to be. He described what these women have to endure as “walking jails” and called for an Islam which respects French Republican principles of equality between men and women.

These MPs hope that such a committee will contribute to clarify the kind of Islam that is practised in France.

Similarly Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of Paris Great Mosque, said that Muslim French women were not expected to wear a burqa since nothing justifies it. He denounced such practises as a radical drift which should not be tolerated in France.