Published on 13 July 2015

For French Jews, fear and defiance mix 6 months after attacks

"We’re not afraid to come shopping here. We refuse to be cowed by our enemies" 

By Cnaan Liphshiz, published in Forward July 10, 2015
n her way home from food shopping, Mirelle Bensason pauses to rearrange wilted wreaths and posters hanging on the perimeter fence that police set up around the kosher supermarket where an Islamist gunned down four Jewish shoppers six months ago.
Bensason, who does not keep strictly kosher, is not a Hyper Cacher regular, but sees the continued flow of customers into the shop as proof of the Jewish community’s resilience.
Hyper Cacher reopened in March, about two months after Amedy Coulibaly entered the chain’s Port de Vincennes location and took its patrons hostage. Since it reopened, the store is guarded during its hours of operation by police officers toting machine guns.
“I take care of the commemorations on this fence to remember the victims and my pain, our pain,” said Bensason, a blue-eyed grandmother of four who was born in Morocco and now lives on the eastern edge of Paris, not far from Hyper Cacher. “But we’re not afraid to come shopping here. We refuse to be cowed by our enemies. Life has not changed much, except for the pain that comes with loss.”
Defiance is a common reaction among many French Jews to the growth of violent anti-Semitism that has been building for years and culminated at the shop on Jan. 9. But there is real and palpable fear that the Hyper Cacher attack will turn out to be a watershed moment for the Jews of France — one that accelerated already record immigration to Israel, caused a sharp drop in sales at kosher shops and introduced new levels of anxiety to the lives of the Jews who stayed.
Yvan Lellouche, a founder of the Union of Kosher Consumers of France, which advocates for the distribution and consumption of kosher food, spoke of “a sharp drop in traffic at kosher shops” in the Paris area since January compared to the corresponding period last year. The union does not compile statistics, but Lellouche said anecdotal evidence suggested sales were down as much as 40 percent.
“We’ve seen a decrease in traffic at Jewish shops until Passover, when it picked up again back to normal levels,” said Lellouche, whose acts as a liaison between kosher shop owners and French police. “Then the peak was over and the decrease continued.”
Not all of the approximately 20 shops in the Hyper Cacher supermarket chain have such tight police protection. Yet following the attack in January, the French government assigned a total of 10,412 soldiers and policemen to guard hundreds of Jewish schools, synagogues and other Jewish institutions. Hundreds of additional uniformed and plainclothes personnel patrol what they consider high-risk areas — in other words, areas where many Jews live.
The Paris region is home to about 350,000 Jews, or about 70 percent of the 500,000 Jews living in France.
In December and January, bullet holes from an air gun were found on the walls of two kosher restaurants in Paris. The previous month, a kosher sushi restaurant was firebombed in Paris’ heavily Jewish 17th arrondissement, or district.
“I say this with pain but, frankly, I’d be very worried if my children worked at a kosher shop,” said Lellouche, a father of five... Read more.