From Our CEO
The City of Light Still Shines
July 1st, 2016

Q: What city has more kosher restaurants than New York? A: Paris.

Surprised? I was, too.

I came back from the City of Light earlier this week, where I attended the board meeting of the Jewish Agency for Israel, one of our largest overseas beneficiaries.

This is the second time I’ve been to Paris representing UJA-Federation. The first was in November 2014 — before Charlie Hebdo, before hostages were held and killed at a kosher supermarket, before the Bataclan theater attacks. Before Brussels. And before Turkey. Back then, there was definitely growing unease about the rising tide of anti-Semitism. But most did not foresee the wave of terror that would bring Paris so much heartache.

Despite this reality, I’m glad to report that the Jewish community in France remains far more vibrant than many would imagine.

I attended Shabbat services in Paris’s largest synagogue, where a young Parisian girl — with a hauntingly beautiful voice, and perfect Hebrew — celebrated her bat mitzvah. I met with many proud and impressive Jewish young adults, intent on remaining in Paris. I ate at a kosher restaurant in the heart of the city with dozens of men wearing kippot, and no security at the door. In fact, there are more than 32,000 students in 286 Jewish day schools and 48 Jewish community centers throughout France.

To be clear, the risks are very real: Jews in France represent less than one percent of the population, but currently are the target of 49 percent of the violent racist attacks in the country. Nonetheless, many young Jews remain committed to a future in France. They’re not prepared to give up, and thanks to us and others, they’re not alone in their resolve to sustain and strengthen Jewish life there.

UJA has increasingly focused resources on building resilience in European Jewish communities, empowering local Jewish leaders, and improving security around Jewish institutions. For example, we’re working with incredibly dedicated young adults from the European Union of Jewish Students and the Union of French Jewish Students, who’re determined to lead their Jewish communities forward.

Those who want to stay have our unwavering support. And those who choose to leave also have our support to start new lives in Israel.

Going into the July 4th weekend, and with the horrific murder yesterday in Kiryat Arba of a 13-year-old Israeli girl fresh in our minds, it is critical to remember how much our freedom means.

And never to take it for granted.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy 4th