A Stroll Through Jewish Paris

Synagogues and Falafel Exist Alongside Harrowing History

Hints of Williamsburg: A street scene in the Marais, the historic Jewish neighborhood in Paris.
Getty Images
Hints of Williamsburg: A street scene in the Marais, the historic Jewish neighborhood in Paris.

By Gerald Eskenazi

Published January 17, 2014, issue of January 10, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Still, it’s odd to see the city wall that blocked us off from the rest of Paris still standing. Not far from a place where folks line up for falafel sandwiches.There were hints of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, as men, and boys, with curly locks, all dressed in black, and women wearing shaytls, or wigs, strode briskly, as usual. (Why do Hasidim always seem in a hurry? My grandfather said it was because they are always rushing to synagogue).

Frank took us deeper into the Marais, with its array of cafes and specialty shops, and the kosher restaurants around the Rue des Rosiers. And then, in the middle of the street on the Place des Vosges, on a first-floor balcony, I saw a huge menorah. I later learned that this is the Charles Liché Synagogue.

The synagogue dates only to 1963, when it was started with a minyan formed by Liché. He was part of the small Ashkenazi population that remained in the Marais after the war. We were there during Hanukkah, hence the menorah. But otherwise, the synagogue seems fairly nondescript. In a way, I thought, that is part of its beauty. We are accustomed, in the States, to fairly impressive buildings — or at least interiors. But here, in the 21st century, was a building that looked as it did so long ago, and I felt I was sharing history with my family.

But there also was a more somber aspect to our tour. Frank stopped in front of a building and told us this was one of the homes where Jews lived — and where they were taken to on the outskirts of town, pending deportation by the Germans during World War II. And how did the Germans know who was Jewish? Apparently, buildings that had multiple families also had a superintendent, or concierge. The Nazi authorities would seek out these caretakers, who would tell the invaders which of the tenants were Jewish.

On our own, we decided to go outside town, to an area called Drancy. It was a $50 cab ride — and a trip back to where remnants of the Holocaust remain. Between 1942 and 1944, almost 70,000 Jews were rounded up for eventual deportation to the camps. They lived in relatively new housing. France always looked at Jews as different, and even though most of those rounded up were citizens, many were foreign born, which, to the French, made them non-French.

In Drancy there is a bleak memorial to all those who were herded there: a statue in front of a railroad car. You know, those railroad cars that you’ve seen in documentaries that took Jews to the extermination camps. And what also is chilling was the fact that the buildings they lived in are still in use. They surround the monument and house lower-income people. On what should be sacred ground, people are simply walking and shopping and playing. For them, it is home.

On the ride back to Paris, we decided we’d end on an upbeat note. And so we stood on line, along with half of Paris, it seemed, to nosh at the iconic L’As du Falafel — the ace of falafel, which it is. It is a kosher restaurant, but virtually everyone turns out for the overstuffed falafel sandwich, which, with its tahini and crunchy shredded coleslaw and other stuff, is a bargain at about $8 (it costs you another $3 if you want to sit inside). And in case you’re not sure if you’ll enjoy it or not, pasted on the door is an endorsement from the American singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz.

Gerald Eskenazi generated more than 8,000 bylines during a 44-year career as a sportswriter for The New York Times. A member of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, he now writes and lectures about travel.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.