Hyper Cacher two years on: French Jews are less isolated but still afraid

The attack on the kosher supermarket, in which four people were killed, has left a legacy of fear, but subsequent terrorist outrages at the Bataclan and in Nice have reduced the sense of victimhood among the Jewish community


Memories remain vivid and painful but life goes on.

Two years after the hostage-taking and quadruple murder as the Hyper Cacher supermarket in eastern Paris, French Jews say they have returned to a largely normal pattern of everyday life but remain on their guard.

Above all, the random jihadist attacks on Paris, Brussels, Nice and Berlin in the last 14 months have reduced the sense of isolation and victimhood of many French jews.

Miriam, 43, interviewed outside another Hyper Cacher shop in the 17th arrondissement in western Paris, said: “I avoided this shop for a while but if you want to eat kosher, there are not many choices. The truth is that you feel just as much in danger now if you go to Galeries Lafayettes or another big store in the centre of the city.

“In a strange way, that is reassuring. We no longer feel that Jews are the only targets or the main targets in France. We no longer feel that most other people don’t care because they think that they are immune. After the Bataclan and Nice, everyone is a target.”

 Much the same point is made by Francis Kalifat, president of the main French Jewish umbrella organisation, the Conseil Représentatatif des Institutions Juives de France (Crif).

The Hypercacher attack on January 9 2015 came after a series of other brutal attacks on Jews in France, culminating in Mohamed Merah’s attack on the Ozar HaTorah school in Toulouse in March 2012 in which four people, including three children, died.

Mr  Kalifat said the attack on the Hyper Cacher store “reinforced the sense of solitude and abandonment” felt by many French Jews. “We had a horrible feeling that we were doomed to live barricaded lives and to make ourselves invisible,” he said.

“Since the (Bataclan and other) attacks of November 2015, this feeling has abated. All French people now know that that the whole of France is under attack – its culture, its freedom, its way of life and its vision of the world."

As a result, Mr Kalifat said, French Jews feel that they are once again part of a “national community”.

“We are still vigilant and we are still worried. Our lives have scarcely become carefree,” he said. “We know that we remain a favourite target of the terrorists but at least  we know that we are no longer a target against a background of indifference.”

Mr Kalidat and other Jewish community leaders organised a ceremony of remembrance inside a marquee outside the Hyper Cacher at the Porte de Vincennes on Monday evening.

The mayor  of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, members of the government and surviving hostages and relatives of the  four victims - Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, Yohav Hatab amd François Michel Saada -  were expected to attend.

The obtrusive police presence established outside synagogues and Jewish shops and businesses two years ago has now been wound down. There are still armed police outside all Jewish schools at the beginning and end of classes. Otherwise, police spokesmen insist that the Jewish community remains under close surveillance through “mobile patrols”.

Some French Jews miss the permanent armed guards.

Meyer, a doctor in his 50s, said: “Yes, we want to go about our everyday lives and nothing can prevent the forces of evil from manifesting themselves but a more visible police presence would be reassuring.”

One apparent result of the reduced sense of islolation in the 500,000 strong community in the last year has been a sharp fall in the rate of emigration to Israel.

Although the figures remain historically high, “only” 5,000 French Jews left permanently for Israel in 2016, compared to over 7,000 in 2014 and almost 8,000 in 2015.

 Many factors shape the number of French Jews who emigrate, Jewish community sources point out: the state of the French and Israeli economies; the relative security situation in both countries and reports returning to France of difficulties of assimilation in Israel.

Strident appeals for mass aliyah like that made in December by the Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman - who said that French jews could not “remain Jewish” and stay in France – appear to have little impact.

Daniel Benhaim, head of the |Jewish Agency in France, said the rate of aliyah remained high compared to the pre-2010 average of around 1,200 a year but had definitely fallen.  

“Those who were ideologocally most determined to go have now left. The rest are now slower to make their minds up,” he said.    

Many Jewish families from the Parisian suburb of Saint Mandé, close to the scene of the Hyper Cacher attack, are known to have joined the exodus in the last two years. They include the former manager of the story and his family.

Others, attending a local cerememy of remembrance on Sunday said that they were determined to remain.

 Patrick, 42, said: “Of course, everyone is anxious. Violence is increasing across the word. But fear will not make us leave. Our parents and grandparents may have made that choice but not us…”

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