France / Paris

Eastern Paris

Don Abravanel Synagogue. Photo by FLLL – Wikipedia

The East was home to both the city’s underprivileged social classes, victims of gentrification in other districts, and refugees from the continental conflicts of the 20th century: Armenians, Greeks and Jews. Between the 3rd, 11th and 19th centuries, the garment and shoe manufacturing industries developed, where many of these migrants were employed.

Before the war, Paris had 50,000 Jews from Eastern Europe, who constituted the vast majority of Parisian Jews until the 1970s. In the 1930s, most of them lived in different districts: the Marais, Belleville, La Roquette, Clignancourt and Saint-Gervais. These groupings were sometimes linked to their country of origin, religious practices and even political commitments.

Pali Kao Synagogue. Photo by Hadonos – Wikipedia

In the 11th arrondissement neighbourhood of La Roquette, Jews from the Ottoman Empire, mainly from the regions of present-day Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, settled at the beginning of the 20th century.

They settled for the most part between Place Voltaire, Rue Sedaine, Rue Popincourt and Rue de la Roquette. They worked mainly in textiles and lingerie and met regularly in cafés, including the famous Bosphore, and in small clubs.

The construction of the  Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue was decided upon in order to promote the revival of Levantine Judaism, following the numerous deportations of the Shoah and the arrival of Jews from North Africa.

Michkenot Yaacov and Or Hayim Synagogues. Photo by GFreihalter – Wikipedia

Built by the architect Alexandre Persitz, it was inaugurated in 1962 by Chief Rabbi Jacob Kaplan who saw in it the symbol of the link between tradition and modernity.

Traits of this modernity are the facade divided into two levels, a courtyard preceding the synagogue behind the entrance gate, the sobriety of the religious motifs and the inscription in French of the 10 commandments.

Another emblematic district of the working class environment is Belleville where many Jews live and work, diversifying by participating in all sorts of trades: grocery shops, cafés, newspapers… The Polish Jewish workers forming a large number of the workers in the fabric, leather and shoe industries, live in great precariousness.

Tribute to the Manouchian group. Photo by Steve Krief

During the Second World War, many Jews from the working-class neighbourhoods of the East joined the Resistance, including members of the Manouchian group and young people like Henri Krasucki.

A large  fresco honours the courage of the Manouchian group who led daring attacks against the Nazis and their Vichy servants before being captured and executed.

Numerous commemorative plaques recall the involvement of these Jews in the Resistance and the large number of Jewish children deported to this part of the city on the school grounds.

Among the places honouring these Resistance fighters is  Hélène Jakubowicz Street and the  plaque in memory of Léopold Rabinovitch. Many Armenians from these neighbourhoods, whose families had experienced genocide a generation earlier, showed solidarity with the Jews, helping them to hide.

After the war, because of the large number of deaths during the Shoah and the change in the area of migration, the Belleville neighbourhood gradually became an emblematic Tunisian Jewish neighbourhood, mainly from the working classes, like those from Eastern Europe before them. Many Tunisian restaurants, such as René & Gabin, grocery shops and places of worship opened in the 1960s.

Street honoring Résistance fighter Hélène Jakubowicz; Photo by Steve Krief

Among the remaining synagogues in Belleville, the  Pali Kao synagogue, inaugurated in 1930, should be noted first. Designed by the architects Germain Debré and Lucien Hesse, it represents the first modernist Jewish place of worship.

Modern because it favours the functional aspect allowing the place to serve both as a place of worship and culture. But also the few ancient motifs and the discretion of its façade. Both Ashkenazi and Sephardic rites are now performed in this place. Also in the neighbourhood, two synagogues dating from the 1960s,  Or Hahaim of Constantinian rite and  Michkenot Yaacov of Tunisian rite.

Plaque honoring Résistance fighter Léopold Rabinovitch. Photo by Steve Krief

Since 2000, following the sharp rise in anti-Semitic acts, many Jews have left the working-class neighbourhoods of eastern Paris to find refuge in the 11th, 20th and surrounding areas of Saint-Mandé and Vincennes. There are small oratories near the Boulevard Voltaire between the place of the same name and the place de la Nation. But also cashers and restaurants.

Since the turn of the century, the growing success of the massortis and liberal communities in Paris, particularly in the East, should be noted. With the  DorVador and  JEM Surmelin synagogues in the Gambetta district. Neighbourhood near the Père Lachaise Cemetery, where many great figures of French history are buried.