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Passing Over the Paris Passover Paradox

Tonight starts the eight days of Passover celebration with the traditional “Seder” that most practicing Jews (and even those who have given up many other traditions) still take part in. Perhaps like Thanksgiving, it’s a joyous time when we can gather friends and family over a sumptuous meal. Can imagine hearing me say this with a good Yiddish accent — “Sooo, vhat could be so bad?”

Normally on this day, I would dig at the bottom of the pile of platters in the cupboard to find the “Seder Plate” my daughter made at school when she was a mere seven years old that indicates the paschal symbols: a roasted egg, a bit of parsley, “Charoset,” a lamb bone, horseradish and “matzos.” On the bookshelf, I would rediscover the home-printed “Haggadahs” leftover from a past community Seder we would use from which to read the story of Passover.

This is not meant to be a lesson in Judaic tradition, so don’t ask me to explain the terminology. The point is, there is no escaping the holiday, even though this year I considered it. The supermarkets are boldly displaying their Passover goodies: stacks of boxes of “matzos,” sweet kosher wines (more like pungent grape juice), “gefilte fish” stuffed tightly into jars, beet-red horseradish, and in the meat section, large legs of lamb. I imagine rue des Rosiers not far away is buzzing with last-minute shoppers, as I will be later today, now that I’ve decided on the last minute to break down and have a quiet Seder at home with my visiting daughter and two close friends.

For those of us who have more interest in the dinner than in the ceremony (the story we’ve heard every year our entire lives), Michael Rubiner who writes for TV, movies, the New Yorker and the New York Times, posted his rendition online of the “Two-Minute Haggadah — A Passover Service for the Impatient” at http://www.slate.com PERFECT for us…surely even my religion-adverse daughter shouldn’t complain, especially since I will serve up freshly-made “Charoset” (apples, nuts, wine, honey and cinnamon) we eat only this one time every year (why, I don’t know, since we all love it!).

Several readers wrote to ask me where they could partake in a traditional Seder while visiting Paris. Thanks to Rabbi Yossef Y. Gorodetsky, anyone can join in his Seder conducted in English tonight and tomorrow night complete with wine, hand made Shemurah matzos and a delicious Passover dinner, starting at 8:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of Paris, “Centre Communautaire de Paris,” 119 Rue La Fayette, 10th. For information and reservations, call: +33 (0 1.48.87.87.12 or e-mail: [email protected]

Earlier in the week, I was also reminded the holiday was upon us by an article that ran in the New Orleans Times Picayune titled “The Passover Paradox” written by Mildred L. Covert. Ms. Covert was my favorite Sunday school teacher in New Orleans when I was in my teens and is co-author of three cookbooks: “Kosher Creole,” “Kosher Cajun” and “Kosher Southern-style” (Pelican).

She writes, “

This year, more than ever, we in New Orleans and the surrounding areas welcome our family and friends to our Seder. We feel more blessed than ever that so many can still be together, and know that others, though out of sight, are not out of mind. At the end of the Seder when it is customary to say the words ‘Next year in Jerusalem,’ we might add another ending this time. Next year we’ll celebrate with more family and more friends, right here in the new New Orleans.”

As a well-entrenched American in Paris, far from my native New Orleans, I still feel a sense of unity with my brethren by keeping alive this one small traditional gesture. I might have otherwise let it slide and be forgotten, if it were not for the reminders in this part of Paris so famous for its Jewish inhabitants.

Every week I receive letters from American Jews who wrestle with their conflict of love of France, but disdain for the anti-Semitic incidents reported here in the last several years. They confess of their fears for their safety traveling here and for all Jews living in France. They point their fingers and place blame.

I cannot address every letter like that I receive, but what provokes me is the utter lack of misunderstanding and knowledge. With a little research, I was able to discover that it’s important to view both sides of the equation before making a judgment. Let’s have a look:

The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (JPPPI) reported that in 1970 there were 530,000 Jews living in France. Today there are fewer — 494,000, and in 2020, it is projected to decline a bit further to 482,000. This parallels the statistics for the United States, which reported a Jewish Population of 5,400,000 in 1970, dropping to currently 5,280,000 and projected to reduce further to 5,200,000 in 2020. Both are losing, France with 9% by 2020 and the U.S. with under 4%.

Forty percent of French Jewish children attend Jewish Day School compared to 29% of American children, and 40-45% French marry outside the religion compared to 54% of the Americans. To enlighten you further, 70% of the French Jews have visited Israel (257,484 in 2004), while only 35% of American Jews have (379,127 in 2004). About the same number of French as American Jews immigrated to Israel in 2004 — 2,003 compared to 1890. Does all this mean American Jews have assimilated faster?

And here’s what you’re waiting for: Yes, we cannot deny that there were 96 violent anti-Semitic incidents in France in 2004, but there were 17 in the U.S. the same year and 84 in the United Kingdom! Yet, we don’t hear any anti-American nor anti-Anglo rhetoric from the same who point their fingers at France.

Do I fear for my life because of who I am living in France? Never. I’ve never felt safer, more at home, more at one with my brethren, whether they be Americans, black, white, Jewish or otherwise. And tonight over matzos and wine, we will toast to that and to freedom everywhere.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. P.S. Be sure to read all about yesterday’s Parler Paris Après Midi complete with photos by clicking here: /parlerparis/apresmidi.html

P.P.S. And don’t forget to pass on Parler Paris to a few of your friends. It’s just one click away!

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