Bien­v­enue: French come to syn­a­gogue

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY NAOMI FIRSHT

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 part­time 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.

‘They are look­ing for greater se­cu­rity, eco­nomic and phys­i­cal’

Rabbi René Pfertzel

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