Remembering & Acting

Today the French Jewish community commemorates the synagogue bombing which tok place thirty years ago outside the oldest and largest Reform synagogue in France, the ULIF Synagogue, also known as the Copernic Synagogue due to its location rue Copernic.

On October 3, 1980, on the eve of Simchat Torah. About 10 kilograms (22 lb) of explosives hidden in the saddlebags of a motorcycle parked outside the synagogue detonated, killing four passers-by and injuring 42 people inside. Obviously because of the date the synagogue was rather full (it is estimated that 300 people were present) and it is a miracle there were “only” four casualties.

Although this happened three decades ago, it is stil present in people’s memories. One reason is the controversial remark made by France’s then Prime Minister Raymond Barre when he denounced “A hateful attack which wanted to strike at the Jews who were in that synagogue, and which [instead] struck innocent French people who were crossing the street.”

Twenty-five years after the terror attack, a Canadian professor, Hassan Diab, was arrested on charges that he was involved in the bombing. He has not been extradited yet and is still in Canada. As his case will be examined on November, 8 2010 you are welcome to sign the online petition requiring that he be brought to justice in France.

Commemorating the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup

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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.

Justice 28 Years Later?

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A Canadian man has been arrested and could face extradition to France in connection with the 1980 bombing of a synagogue in Paris 28 years ago. Hassan Diab was taken into custody today on a provisional extradition warrant issued at the request of French authorities.

The synagogue of ULIF, located in the rue Copernic, was attacked on October 3, 1980, on the eve of Simchat Torah. A bomb hidden in a motorcycle went off outside the place, killing four people and wounding twenty others.

Broken Glass

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On November 9th, we commemorate the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the infamous night during which 267 synagogues were burned down, 7500 Jewish-owned businesses and institutions were destroyed, 92 Jews were murdered and an additional 30,000 were arrested and many were sent to concentration camps.

To commemorate this event, Le Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris organizes an exhibition. Three History teachers and I will go there in December with two classes.

Shabbat Shalom, the OU online magazine, features a slideshow which shows some aspects of the vibrant Jewish community of Berlin today.

Bad News for the Jews

Anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and fascists slogans and graffiti were sprayed on the walls of a French junior high school last week. It is probably no coincidence that the school is named after René Cassin, the man who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Judging from the slogans, which included references to White Power, the culprits must be extreme-right activists.

– Three young Jewish boys were attacked and beaten up by a group of ten teenagers yesterday evening on their way to shul. This happened in the same district as the June attack. The youngsters said their aggressors attacked them because they had “the traditional Jewish profile” and wore kippot.
I’ll provide update when I have more information.

– The theological commission of the World Evangelical Alliance has reiterated its commitment to proselytize European Jews. One may wonder what the WEA was thinking when they decided to issue their call from Berlin.

Nota Bene: The link provided for the last news is to a Jewish site, no need to boost the WEA’s readership.

Loathsome T-Shirts in Paris Store

The BNVCA (Bureau National de Vigilance Contre l’Antisémitisme – the National Bureau of Vigilence Against Anti-Semitism) has just pressed charges against a store which was selling sleeveless t-shirts bearing an anti-Semitic slogan referring to a Nazi-era Jewish ghetto in Poland. They were spotted by a woman on Sunday in the 19th multiethnic district of Paris.

“The inscriptions on the t-shirt read in German “Juden Eintritt in die parkanlagen verboten” (No Entry for Jews in the Park) and in Polish “Zydome wstep do parku wzbroniony,” reproducing a ban to Jews in the Lodz ghetto in 1940.” (European Jewish Press)

The woman contacted France’s anti-Semitism watchdog which advised her to take photos of the tops in the shop window and buy one t-shirt for evidence. The BNVCA also contacted AFP who sent a journalist to the spot.

In France slogans encouraging anti-Semitic or racial hatred are forbidden so the shop-owner – a Chinese man – is bound to be heavily fined, at least. The labels on the tops read “Intro fancy”. So far it seems it has not been possible to identify where the t-shirts were made.

Because of the nauseous character of this piece of news, I have chosen not to illustrate this post.

Unusual Thrillers


I love a good thriller every now and again. I guess reading a suspense novel is my way of keeping my angst at bay.

Fred Vargas is a great French author. She has written two main series, each featuring a whole set of characters who come back novel after novel. None of them is very plausible and yet, once you are reading this does not seem to matter. A good instance of “suspension of disbelief” I guess.

I suppose that, to a foreign audience, her books might look very French with a touch of gentle craziness.

One last point. A recent controversy involved a French journalist who had made antisemitic remarks in an article and was sacked as a result. Philippe Val, the newspaper editor, was heavily criticized for this dismissal and Fred Vargas was among a number of French “intellectuals” who wrote an op-ed in Le Monde to back his decision.

Sad News

200px-Kippah.jpgJust when we thought that anti-Semitic attacks in France were on the wane, a seventeen year-old was severely beaten up yesterday by a group of six or seven teenagers in the 19th district of Paris.

The boy was identified by his attackers as Jewish as he was wearing a kippah. He was walking in broad daylight through a neighborhood where many Jewish families live when this happened. The youths attacked him with metal bars, smashed his skull and broke several of his ribs. The young Lubavitch boy was taken to hospital where he is still in intensive care. His state is described as critical.

Police said they detained five people for questioning in connection with the beating. Numerous French politicians were quick to condemn the attack and reaffirm their determination “to fight all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.” While they are right to condemn this cowardly obnoxious attack, I wish they would stop treating racism and anti-Semitism as if they were one and the same thing. It is both inaccurate and completely counterproductive.

Update: Apparently this boy, Rudy, is no longer in a coma.

The Holocaust Project: Update

150px-Holo.jpgWell now that the project has been accepted and knowing that it concerns two different classes of premières, I need to get myself organized.

One class will work on the Holocaust project for two hours every week during the first half of the school year. The students are in groups of two or three (never more as we’ve found that a bigger number is more likely to bring conflicts within the group- there tend to be those who work and those who chat).

Therefore we, teachers, have to find a list of topics the students can work on for that lenght of time and for which they can easily find material in libraries or online.

Here is what I have come up with so far:
– Childhood and Genocide
– Art and the Holocaust
– What happened to the Jews in our hometown during WW2
– Survivors and Testimonies

This is the planning stage and some of these topics will need redefining. Besides we obviously need to find more topics so that the students have a choice.

Furthermore assuming the history teacher will take care of the historical part of this project, I need to see what and how this topic can be introduced in a language classroom.

I’ve just been reading Straight into Darkness by Faye Kellerman with the hope that I would find extract(s) I could select for the languages groups. Unfortunately, although the historical background is interesting – Munich in 1929- there isn’t much I can use with my students.

So I now intend to re-read Blood Money by Rochelle Krich and Total Recall by Sarah Paretsky, two suspense novels which deal with Holocaust survivors. I might also use Into The Arms Of Strangers – Stories Of The Kindertransport, a DVD that relates how the lives of 10,000 Jewish children were saved when England agreeed to receive them in 1939.

Teaching about the Shoah: Project

shoah.jpgA colleague, who teaches history and geography, asked me yesterday if I was willing to work on a Holocaust project with her.

We would share the same class (a group of 30 or so juniors). She’d teach them history and I English. In addition, once a week, and for half the school year, we’d be together with the students and they would work on a project related to the Shoah. Finally we hope to be able to take the class on a day-trip to Auschwitz.

We are presenting the project this afternoon and then again tonight in two different meetings and hope that it will be accepted.