Fleeing French find a haven in St John’s Wood


A first Friday night service for French speakers at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John’s Wood, is recognition of a growing local community, attracted in part by a desire to flee rising antisemitism and terror attacks in their homeland.

“There are two reasons why French people come to London,” reflected senior LJS minister Rabbi Alexandra Wright. Attacks on Jewish targets, most recently in Marseille, had made some think: “How can they identify themselves as Jews in a society where there are people who are hostile towards them? Where is the place where they can comfortably live?”

But others had moved to London on professional or financial grounds. “I think part of the reason for us doing the service is to put ourselves out there and say ‘here is a community where you can feel at home’,” Rabbi Wright added. “They are looking for greater security, both economic and physical.”

The number of French people involved in the shul has grown and she estimates that close to 10 per cent of the 160 children in its religion school are French speaking.

In September, LJS engaged a part-time French minister, Rabbi René Pfertzel, who also serves a Progressive community in Lyon, France.

He, too, felt that French Jews were settling here for a variety of reasons. “Someone told me they wanted to come to London for safety because they felt quite insecure in France. I know a young couple who moved to London from Lyon because they wanted to work in finance. Maybe the drive to come to London for security reasons is quite high at the moment, as it is for going to Israel.”

Rabbi Pfertzel — who says the Progressive movement in France is small, but growing — expects a turnout of around 100 at the January 29 service, which will become weekly if the demand is demonstrated. He is also prepared to offer “classes in French, visits, the whole spectrum of rabbinical duties. Anything is possible.”

Mother-of-two Audrey Zeitoun is looking forward to meeting other French Jews at the service. “I thought it was a brilliant initiative from the synagogue,” she said. “It makes us feel more at home.

“Since I moved to London I don’t practise as much. It’s hard when you are alone, you don’t feel like going [to shul]. Now I feel like I should do more. So when I heard about the French service I thought it would be a great opportunity.”

Originally from Marseille, Ms Zeitoun moved to the UK eight years ago. She is also hoping to get her children, aged 11 and 15, involved in the community.

The service will be a mixture of French, English and Hebrew, with a sermon given in French by Rabbi Pfertzel. It will be followed by Tunisian-style refreshments.

LJS is the largest Liberal synagogue in the UK with around 2,000 members.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive