France / Paris


Portrait of Jules Pascin by Albert Weisgerber, 1906
Portrait of Jules Pascin by Albert Weisgerber, 1906

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the legendary bohemia of Montparnasse included many Russians Jewish painters who had fled the anti-Semitic pogroms of the day. Among them were Soutine, Chagall, and Zadkine. Others, such as Modigliani, were simply attracted by the city’s prestige and contributed to the tremendous creative effervescence of the day.

Division 22 of the  Montparnasse cemetery (Cimetière du Montparnasse) is the resting place of the painter Jules Pascin, one of the “artistes maudits” who lived out his wild, nocturnal life in this quarter. Born in Bulgaria in 1885, he committed suicide in Paris in 1930.

A drawing engraved on his tombstone evokes his work, accompanied by the words: “A free man, hero of dreams and desire, opening the golden doors with his bleeding hands, flesh and blood, Pascin disdained to choose and, master of life, ordained his own death.” A little further on, in Division 28, a white stone bears the name of the officer Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935). Here lies the man who was wrongly accused of high treason, of betraying French military secrets to Germany.

Synagogue Chasseloup-Laubat. Photo by Mbzt – Wikipedia

Homage to Captain Dreyfus (Hommage au Capitaine Dreyfus) is a sculpture by cartoonist Louis Mitelberg, best known as Tim. It functions on two levels: Captain Dreyfus is depicted presenting his arms, but his sword is broken -representing the degradation of his first trial.

West of Montparnasse, near the avenue de Ségur, curious travellers will make a point of visiting what older Parisians consider to be the capital’s most handsome and original  synagogue. Consecrated on September 29 1913, it was designed by the architect Bechmann. The square hall has sides fifteen yards long. The gallery is supported by wooden columns that rise all the way to the octagonal wooden dome of the roof.

JEM Beaugrenelle synagogue, ex-MJLF

The  synagogue JEM Beaugrenelle, part of the liberal Judaïsme En Mouvement (JEM) offers one of the most original modern architectural creations. It is located at the movement’s Community center which also hosts a reception hall and classes, inaugurated in 1980 by Rabbi Daniel Farhi. The building is covered with ceramic tiles and is visible from two streets superposed.

The interiors of the synagogue are quite sober, using mostly wood and Hebrew scriptures. Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur participates in numerous contemporary national debates and projects, having been after Pauline Bebe the second nominated woman rabbi. The movement has since been joined by other men and women rabbis.

The Massorti movement appeared in France in the 1980s. Several Massorti communities are present in Paris. The largest being that of  Adath Shalom, headed by Rabbi Rivon Krygier. The presence and contemporary development explains the modernity of the synagogues welcoming the liberal and massorti movements. The one where Rivon Krygier officiates is located rue George Bernard Shaw, in the 15th arrondissement. A district that harmoniously hosts three important synagogues of Parisian life, each linked to a movement.