More than half the Jews in France live in Paris and its suburbs (350,000), but there are other large communities in Marseilles (70,000), Lyons (25,000), Toulouse (23,000), Nice (20,000), Strasbourg (16,000), Grenoble (8,000), Metz, and Nancy (4,000). In addition there are a dozen communities, each with some 2,000 Jews, scattered through- out the country. Altogether there are approximately 230 Jewish communities in France.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Ashkenazi community of veteran French Jews and immigrants from eastern Europe underwent a major demographic transformation with the arrival of 300,000 Jews from North Africa, mainly from Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt. As a result, the Sephardi Jews now comprise 60% of the French Jewish community.
On the eve of World War II, there were 300,000 Jews living in France. In 1940 the Germans invaded the country. In Paris and elsewhere in occupied France, French policemen actively ferreted out Jews in hiding. French Jewry thus suffered at the hands of both the Germans and the French. In the unoccupied zone, the Vichy government enthusiastically cooperated with the Germans. About 70,000 French Jews perished in the Holocaust.
Between 1945 and 1948, about 80,000 Jews arrived from central and eastern Europe. In 1955, 10,000 Egyptian Jews settled in the country, and in the years from 1956 to 1963, a great wave of immigrants from the Maghreb arrived.
The political umbrella organization officially representing all the communities and organizations before the government is the Representative Council of French Jewry (CRIF), founded in 1944. The Consistoire Central is the body responsible for the religious affairs of the community. It also supervises the chief rabbinate and bet din, which enjoy national recognition. The United Jewish Social Foundation (FSJU) was founded in 1950 to centralize and supervise major social, cultural, and educational enterprises.
All the major Zionist organizations are active, and there are several youth movements. Despite the variety of outlets for Jewish expression, only 40% of the community are registered members of synagogues or Jewish organizations. Statistics show an increase in aliya and tourism to Israel in recent years. Along with assimilation, there is also a noticeable religious revival, including a growing section of ultra-Orthodox, which has created tensions within the organized community.
In recent years, and especially with the advent of the trial of the Vichy police commander of Lyons, Paul Touvier, France has been forced to confront its record of collaboration with the Germans, particularly its active assistance in rounding up the Jews of France and deporting them to the death camps. In 1995 President Jacques Chirac publicly apologized to the Jewish people on behalf of the republic.
In 1996 reports in the media on the confiscation of hundreds of apartments and works of art from French Jews during the Holocaust led to the establishment of a government commission to investigate this matter. There have been several serious anti-Semitic incidents in France, including bombings and vandalism. Anti-Semitism is disseminated in regularly published newspapers and magazines, including those of Muslim fundamentalists. The strong electoral support for the extreme-right National Front, headed by Jean-Marie Le Pen, is a source of worry to the Jewish community.
In Paris alone, there are more than 20 Jewish day schools, both elementary and high schools, as well as kindergartens and religious seminaries. Jewish schools are also to be found in Strasbourg, Nice, Toulouse, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Metz, and Aix-les-Bains. Most French universities offer courses in Judaic studies, including courses in Yiddish, Ladino, and Hebrew. The Mercaz Rashi, which contains the University Center for Jewish Studies, provides courses for academics and students. The Rabbinical Seminary ordains rabbis to serve in French-speaking countries. About 4% of the school-age children are enrolled in Jewish day schools. The Alliance Israelite Universelle supervises an international network of French-oriented schools in other countries.
Every year there is a Jewish Book Week, a Jewish Music Week, an intellectual colloquium, and a variety of symposia and seminars on Jewish issues. Jewish dance and theater companies are also active. A lively Jewish press exists in France, featuring two weeklies and a number of monthly journals. Weekly Jewish programs are broadcast on both radio and television, and several local Jewish radio stations are on the air in Paris and in other major cities.
L’As du Fallafel
34 rue des Rosiers
Phone number+33 1 48 87 63 60
Trocadéro/Iéna, Victor Hugo, 16ème
9 rue Gustave Courbet
Phone number+33 1 45 53 55 55
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