I love France, but I shall not return to Paris anytime soon.
While not French myself, like many Americans I have a special affection for France, its culture, people and civilization. Having married a French woman, educated my children in the Lycée Francais, co-authored and taught with French professors in Paris and Lyon, and visited the country many times, I can say my ties to France are deep and lifelong.
I also know there are many very decent and fair-minded French people who are deeply ashamed, and indeed fearful, of what they see happening to their country. One Christian colleague told me 10 years ago that he fears for the future of his two daughters and what would become of their country economically, politically and socially. He said if he were 20 years younger, he would have immigrated to the West Coast to live his life here, even though he is French to the bone. I often think of him and others when I remember the good people I have known there.
We can see that France is in deep crisis. The economy is failing to provide good employment for many of the youth, and increasingly their belief in the future of their country’s ethos seems to be fading. While the French have always complained, there is now more despair.
However, the economy is not what is so distressing, but rather the emergence of an intolerant Islamic militancy among its large Muslim population that threatens Jews, and will eventually threaten France’s Christians themselves. Persecution of Jews is “the canary in the coal mine” that portends a deepening societal crisis. Hateful public marches and pogrom-like behavior such as we have recently seen in Paris are a stain on the French ethos. Government proclamations are not enough to stop this — French citizens’ solidarity against bigotry must be clear and widespread.
Simply put, if French Jews cannot live in security as practicing Jews, and if they live in fear for their lives and their children when they identify themselves as Jews by going to synagogue or sending their children to Jewish schools, then there is something very wrong with France itself.
There seems to be a confluence of media instigation, political correctness and street militancy gone amok that has created a toxic environment of intolerance in France. Jews I know are feeling more alienated and ready to leave.
Shame on France!
Jews who leave because they feel this is no longer a place for them will affect others to leave as well. The emigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union is a parallel example. Many felt there was no future for them, and they left for America or Israel. I believe the same will be true for the French Jews, and more will leave as the result of years of accumulating anti-Semitism that this Gaza war has aggravated to a higher level.
As long as Jews do not feel safe in Paris, then I shall not return to the places and people I so enjoy. I encourage others who may feel this way to also not return to France as long as hate and intolerance are allowed to fester and threaten French Jews. I hope good French citizens can save themselves and stand with their Jewish co-citizens against rabid intimidation and violence. Until they do, I will say “adieu.”
Jeff Saperstein of Mill Valley is a Jewish community activist and former marketing director for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. He chairs the Bridges to Israel speakers’ series at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon.