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The Schmooze

A French-Jewish Billionaire Family Is Leading Fundraising To Rebuild Notre Dame

Editor’s note, April 17, 11:30 [An earlier edition of this article stated that LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault is Jewish. The Arnault family is not Jewish.]

Correction appended: Swish your L’Oreal-scented hair and careful not to spill on the Louis Vuitton — you just might have contributed to the fundraising to rebuild Notre Dame cathedral, the iconic church and tourist site that was badly damaged in a fire on Monday.

The family behind L’Oreal, the Bettencourt Meyers, have matched a pledge made by luxury conglomerate LVMH to donate 200 million euros ($226 million) to the effort to rebuild the fire-damaged building. Françoise Bettencourt Meyers who, with her family, holds the majority shares, also has a Jewish identity. Though her parents had ties to Naziism, Bettencourt Meyers married a grandchild of survivors and went on to raise their children as Jews. She is a biblical scholar who focuses on Jewish-Christian relationships.

Bettencourt Meyers, who is the richest woman in the world, will gift the money through her family’s Bettencourt Schueller foundation. In a statement, the group declared the intention to help with the reconstruction of the cathedral, calling it “a symbol of French heritage and our common history.

The luxury conglomerate LVMH — a group comprised of 70 luxury brands with a focus on leather, watches, and fashion — also pledged 200 million euros($226 million) to the project. Though the Arnault family is not Jewish, the company has Jewish ties.

The genesis of LVMH as a textiles dynamo began when Bernard Arnault, together with Jewish banker Antoine Bernheim raised funds to purchase the company that owned Christian Dior. Now one of the best minds behind LVMH is celebrity Jewish designer Marc Jacobs.

Indeed, the Catholic cathedral has held significance as a French monument and holds special — the complex — significance for Jews. As Benjamin Ivry wrote for the Forward, a statue dating to the 1200s depicts an elegant female figure as “Synagogue” — though her face is hidden behind a snake. In Victor Hugo’s classic text, the famous Hunchback of Notre Dame is described by a French peasant as “a beast, an animal, the offspring of a Jew and a sow; in short, something that isn’t Christian and should be cast into the water or fire.” Yet the cathedral has also offered sanctuary and unity in times of contemporary anti-Semitism, such as when, after the murder of Mireille Knoll in March 2018 a statement declared the cathedral as “in communion with the entire Jewish community.”

The Pinault family, which owns the majority shares of the Kering luxury company — you know their brands Gucci and Balenciaga, for example — have also pledged one million euros to the rebuilding project, though that family has no Jewish affiliation. “This tragedy is striking all the French people, and beyond that, all those attached to spiritual values,” Chairman Francois-Henri Pinault said in a statement. A French oil and gas company as well as the American company Apple have also promised donations.

But some of the heftiest donations promised publicly so far have come from French Jews.

Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny


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