Jewish France travel can offer so much more than the usual landscapes and food. Given the opportunity to explore France, you should see the following places:
Paris Tourist Office 25, rue des Pyramides, 1st arrondissement, tel. 08.92.68.30.00, www.parisinfo.com
Jews have been living in Paris intermittently since the region was conquered by Rome in the first century B.C. Jewish communities in those early centuries could be found in what is now the 5th arrondissement, in an area just south of Notre-Dame near where the Church of St-Julien-le-Pauvre now stands. Evidence suggests that a synagogue once stood on the same site.
In the 10th and 11th centuries, a small Jewish community settled on Rue de la Harpe between Rue de la Huchette and Rue St-Séverin, and later on a street called Rue de la VieilleJuiverie (Old Jewry Street) that lay between the present Rue St-Séverin and Rue Monsieur-le-Prince. There was a Jewish cemetery at the corner of Blvd. St-Michel and Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, and, nearby, a
synagogue. Another Jewish cemetery was located on the tiny Rue Pierre-Sarazin just off Blvd. St-Michel.
In the 12th century, Spaniard Benjamin of Tudela traveled throughout the known world chronicling its Jewish communities. When he came to Paris, he called it Ha-irHagedolah (Hebrew for that great city). The Jewish community, which was then living on the Ile de la Cité, must have welcomed him to the Jewish quarter—an area that lay between Rue de la Cité (then called Rue des Juifs), Quai de la Corse, and rue de Lutèce. Place Louis-Lépine, where the Marché aux Fleurs now stands, was the site of the synagogue.
Another late-12th-century Jewish community was nearby on the Right Bank streets Rue de Moussy, Rue du Renard, Rue St-Merri, and Rue de la Tacherie. The Petit Pont, which like other Paris bridges in those days was covered with houses, was also home to a Jewish community. Indeed, at the time, Jews lived on many other streets. By the 13th century, the community had moved to the Marais (now the third and fourth arrondissements), where it remained until its expulsion from France in 1306.
While Paris has been a place of Jewish prosperity, scholarship, and greatness, it has also seen much Jewish devastation. For centuries the Jewish community lived in France only at the sufferance of the king, and expulsions were common. Nevertheless, during the periods between expulsions, the rabbis of Paris were renowned throughout the Jewish world, and the city was home to a number of noted Jewish scholars.
During the 15th and 16th centuries it was illegal for Jewish to live in Paris. There were a handful of Jews who were in the city under the radar, but there was no organized Jewish community and no obvious houses of worship. It was not until the early 18th century that a few Jews petitioned for permission to conduct business in Paris. A handful of kosher inns opened at that time and this eventually lead to the dedication of the first official synagogue in 1788. Construction of the first Great Synagogue was begun in 1819, a building replaced in 1874 by the new (and present) Great Synagogue on Rue de la Victoire. www.lavictoire.org/
France was the first European country to grant civil rights to Jews around the time of the French Revolution. In the early 19th century, when Jews began to return to Paris following emancipation, they again settled in the Marais. Today, visitors will find Jews—numbering about 375,000, or 8 percent of the total Paris population—gathered in neighborhoods throughout Paris and its environs, but the largest Jewish neighborhoods are in the 4th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements.
Explore France’s Neighborhoods During your Jewish travel in France
Neighborhoods – 4th arrondissement
This is Paris’ most famous Jewish neighborhood - the Marais, known as the Pletzl—Yiddish for little place. This area (Métro: St-Paul) has been home to Jews since the 13th century. Today, although gentrification has made the Marais one of the city’s most fashionable quarters, it is still heavily Jewish. Up and down Rue des Rosiers between Rue Malher and Rue des Hospitalières-St-Gervais, as well as on the neighboring streets, visitors will find Jewish restaurants, bookshops, boulangeries and charcuteries, along with synagogues and shtiebels (small prayer rooms—oratoires in French).
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Start on the Ile de la Cité (Métro: Cité) at the Place du Parvis, the square in front of Notre-Dame and the location from which all distances in France are measured.
Notre-Dame de Paris
Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the most famous sights in Paris and certainly one of the most spectacular. Surprisingly, this symbol of French Catholicism also holds some interest for Jews. On either side of the central portal, in tall niches, are two female figures: Ecclesia and Synagoga. On the left as you face the portal, Ecclesia, wearing a crown, represents the Roman Catholic Church; on the right is Synagoga, with a bowed head, shattered staff, the broken tablets of the Ten Commandments at her feet, and a serpent around her eyes. She represents Judaism. Variations of these two figures are common in church architecture throughout Europe.
Walk east alongside the church, down Rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame to Quai de l’Archevêché and the Square de l'Ile de France.
At the far end of the square is a small memorial to the unknown World War II deportee. Inside are the names of the German death camps where 200,000 French men, women, and children, Jews and Christians alike, were put to death. The French words above the door speak volumes: Pardonne mais n’oublie pas (“Forgive, but do not forget”).
Exit the square, turn right, and cross the Pont St-Louis to the Ile St-Louis. Bear left down Rue Jean-du-Bellay and cross the Pont Louis-Philippe to the Right Bank. Turn right on Rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville and then turn left on Rue Geoffroy-l’Asnier.
Mémorial de la Shoah www.memorialdelashoah.org/
This memorial dedicated to the nearly six million Jewish lives lost during the Shoah opened its doors in 2005 at a site already occupied by the Memorial of the Unknown Jewish Martyr. Two major additions to the site are Le Mur des Noms, a wall bearing the names of 76,000 Jews deported from France between 1942 and 1944, and Le Mur des Justes, a wall bearing the names of 2 700 French people who helped save Jews during WWII. 17, rue Geoffroy-l’Asnier, tel. 01.42.77.44.72.
Leaving the memorial, turn left on Rue Geoffroy-l’Asnier. Take the next right on Rue François-Miron. This street meets Rue de Rivoli at the St-Paul Métro station. To the north across Rue de Rivoli from the station is the Rue Pavée.
Jewel travel would not be complete without visiting The Pletzl. Jews have lived here since the early 20th century, but this was a Jewish neighborhood in the Middle Ages too. Known as La Juiverie (the Jewry) in the 13th century, it was a thriving community, complete with synagogues, cemeteries, and food manufacturers. Some of the street names from that early period survive.
Until the late 17th century, this district was full of grand mansions and beautiful vistas. However, in the 1680s the French royal court moved from the Louvre (then a royal palace) to Versailles, and the rich and powerful, following suit, left the Marais. The exodus of the moneyed classes signaled the decline of the neighborhood.
When the 19th century brought industrialization to Western European cities, the mansions of the Marais were converted into small apartments and workshops. Conditions deteriorated as hovels cropped up in courtyards, in front of houses, and even on rooftops. The once-glitzy Marais had become a fetid slum. Many of the residents were Jews, the descendents of those who had been expelled from France in the 12th century by King Phillipe-Auguste.
But urban history has interesting twists and turns. The Marais is now one of Paris' trendiest quarters, populated by successful artists, media types, and celebrities. Still, commemorative plaques on buildings serve as reminders of darker times, particularly those of World War II, when individuals and families were deported and never returned..
Walk north on Rue Pavée.
Agudath Ha Kehilot
Agudath Ha Kehilot, an orthodox synagogue, is the largest in the Pletzel. Opened in 1914, it was designed by Hector Guimard, the Art Nouveau architect famous for the green archways of the Paris Métro. Guimard's American wife was Jewish, so with the rise of Nazism they left France for the United States. On Yom Kippur 1940, the Germans dynamited the synagogue. It has since been restored and is now a national monument. Services are held daily and on all Jewish holidays. 10, rue Pavée, tel. 01.48.87.21.54
Continue along Rue Pavée and turn left on Rue des Rosiers, a narrow, ancient street lined with kosher and Jewish-style restaurants, Jewish bookshops, small synagogues, prayer rooms, and kosher boulangeries and charcuteries. Turn left on Rue Ferdinand Duval ( called Rue des Juifs until 1900).
Hôtel des Juifs
The rear of the courtyard of number 20, rue Ferdinand Duval (the door may be locked) contains a 16th-century hôtel particulier (private house) known as the Hôtel des Juifs. It is a remnant of the 18th-century community of Jews from eastern France and Germany.
Return to Rue des Rosiers, turn left, and continue to Rue des Ecouffes (street of kites—a bird of prey in the same family as the vulture and an archaic, derisive term for pawnbroker), location of a number of orthodox synagogues. Notice the posters of the deceased Lubavitcher rabbi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, whose followers live in this neighborhood. Continue down Rue des Rosiers to Rue des Hospitalières-St-Gervais. Turn right.
Among the most exciting parts of Jewish tours is a visit at the memorial. On the wall of the Jewish boys school at 6, rue des Hospitalières-St-Gervais is a plaque commemorating the teachers and 165 students deported to Auschwitz via the transit camp at Drancy (outside Paris). Despite the headmaster’s efforts to prevent their deportation and save their lives, none of them survived.
Continue walking north on Rue des Hospitalières-St-Gervais and turn left when it ends at Rue des Francs Bourgeois. One block after this street becomes Rue Rambuteau, turn right on Rue du Temple (not Rue Vieille du Temple).
Musée d'art et d'histoire du judaïsme (Museum of Jewish Art and History) Located in the magnificent 17th-century Hôtel de St-Aignan, this museum is dedicated to the celebration of Jewish life through its collections, exhibits, resource library, and workshops. 71, rue du Temple (Métro: Rambuteau), tel. 01.53.01.86.60, www.mahj.org
Chir Hadach 1, rue des Hospitalières-St-Gervais, tel. 01.42.72.38.00. English and Yiddish spoken.
Diasporama 20, rue des Rosiers, tel. 01.42.78.30.50. www.diasporama.com
Neighborhoods – 9th arrondissement
Just Just off the Grands Boulevards, around the intersection of Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, Rue Cadet, and Rue Richer (Métro: Cadet) is another Jewish neighborhood. Although this neighborhood does not possess the long history of the Marais, it is no less Jewish. Visitors should not be put off by what seem like shabby building façades. Behind the heavy outer doors are quaint courtyards leading to lovely apartments, particularly on the side streets.
This area became a Jewish neighborhood in the middle of the 19th century when Jews from Eastern Europe began to arrive. Today these streets are lined with Jewish shops and restaurants and a dozen synagogues. Though most of the restaurants serve Israeli or North African food, there is the occasional French and even kosher Chinese and kosher Tex-Mex. Nearby are a number of notable synagogues and the offices of the Association ConsistorialeIsraélite de Paris (17 and 19, rue St-Georges, tel. 01.40.82.26.26, www.consistoire.org)
Built in 1877, the Synagogue Buffault is typical of synagogues built throughout France at the time: arched doorways crowned by a rose window; and inside, a Bimah (raised area from which services are conducted), rather than at the front. Wooden pews and chandeliers also distinguish the interior. Services are held daily and on all Jewish holidays. 28, rue Buffault, tel. 01.45.26.80.87.
The Synagogue de la Victoire is also known as the Great Synagogue or the Rothschild synagogue. Around the corner from the offices of the Consistoire, the neo-Romanesque building was dedicated in 1874. Its interior is impressive with yellow, blue, and red circular stained glass windows and a grand sanctuary with 87-foot ceilings. The Bimah is flanked by seating reserved for the chief rabbis of Paris and France. Daily services, as well as on Jewish holidays. 44, rue de la Victoire, tel. 01.40.82.26.26, www.lavictoire.org.
Beth Hassofer 52, rue Richer, tel. 01.55.33.16.33
La Foire du Livre 37, rue Richer, tel. 01.47.70.38.53, www.lafoiredulivre.com
Librarie Colbo 3, rue Richer, tel. 01.47.70.21.81
Librarie Ohr Moshe 26, rue de Trévise, tel. 01.45.23.27.21
Other places of interest
Place des Martyrs Juifs du Vélodrome d’Hiver
In the 15th arrondissement, not far from the Bir-Hakeim Bridge, between Quai Branly and Quai de Grenelle (Métro: Bir-Hakeim) is the Place des Martyrs Juifs du Vélodromed’Hiver, dedicated in 1994. The huge Véld’Hiv was an indoor cycling stadium, and from 1942 until its demolition in 1958, one of the most infamous places in Paris. Early in the morning of July 16, 1942, the French police, acting under orders from the German Gestapo arrested over 13,000 Jews and detained them at the Vélodrome. Kept under horrendous, unsanitary conditions for days, they were then shipped to the transit camp at Drancy and on to Auschwitz.
Drancy Concentration Camp Memorial Métro: Bobigny/Pablo Picasso. The memorial is at the Cité de la Muette.
Three miles northeast of Paris in the town of Drancy, a brutal and deplorable transit camp for Jews was in operation in an unfinished complex of apartment buildings between 1941 and 1944. An outdoor monument was dedicated in 1976 and includes a boxcar used to transport Jews to Auschwitz from Drancy. Métro: Bobigny/Pablo Picasso. The memorial is at the Cité de la Muette. www.camp-de-drancy.asso.fr