Police Jewish Defense Guards Protect Worshippers at Sabbath Service in Paris Reform Synagogue
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Police Jewish Defense Guards Protect Worshippers at Sabbath Service in Paris Reform Synagogue

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Regular Sabbath services were conducted at the Reform temple on Rue Copernic last Friday night, just a week after a terrorist bomb claimed four lives and injured 32 other people, congregants and passersby. The choir sang “Adon Olam” (Lord of the World). A young girl in a white dress kindled the Sabbath candles. Rabbi Michael Williams made the usual announcements.

But the differences between this and an ordinary Sabbath were visible and palpable. The stained glass windows were shattered. Port of the ceiling was wrecked. Heavily armed police wearing bullet proof vests and young Jewish defense guards were everywhere. The relatively small sanctuary was crowded with regular worshippers, government officials and visitors from other parts of Paris and overseas who come to demonstrate their solidarity with the Rue Copernic congregation and French Jewry as a whole.

Leaders of the French Jewish community were present, headed by Baron Alatn de Rothschild, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Organizations in France (CRIF). The French government was represented by Undersecretary of Labor Lionel Stoleru.

From the United States were Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the congregational branch of Reform Jewry in America, and past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Schindler was representing the Presidents Conference on this occasion. With him was Edgar Bronfman, acting president of the World Jewish Congress.


The regular worshippers of this middle class congregation in a fashionable district of Paris tried hard to pretend that all was normal. But shock, anger and grief hung heavy in the air as the cantor chanted the service. An elderly women wept openly. When an usher tried to console her, she burst into tears, crying, “I never expected to see such things happen again.”

Rabbi Williams, a young, red-bearded Englishman, recalled that after the outrage during the Friday evening services on Oct. 3 he had gone outside to view the carnage and, shaking his fists, shouted “Shame on France, shame on Frenchmen.”

On this Sabbath, one week later, he said: “I regret nothing of what I said. This attack is a shame for France. It matters little who set the bomb. What really matters is that a deep difference continues to exist between Jews and other Frenchmen.”

“So what shall we do now?” Williams asked “We trust the authorities and the police but our security cannot be guaranteed, not by them nor even by devoted young Jewish guards but only by our fellow French citizens. We depend on them and they depend on us.”


Schindler, too, was outspoken. “It is inconceivable to repeat the sin of silence once again within one generation, ” he said. “We went to our doom bleating like sheep. Now we should roar like lions.” The Reform leader stressed that he did not come to lecture French Jews or the French government on what to do “I have, however, drawn certain conclusions,” he said. “The main one is that if one encourages terrorism somewhere, in Haifa for example, it will occur in Europe.”

Later, Schindler told a small press conference that the terrorists responsible for the Rue Copernic outrage may have been linked to the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO, he said, seems to have definite links with both extreme left and extreme, rightwing terrorist groups He also said that he was touched by the national display of French solidarity with the Jewish community.

Meanwhile, a public opinion poll published by the weekly L’Express showed that 87 percent of those questioned believed that a French Jew is “just as French as a non-Jew” and 69 percent believe that the bomb attack was ordered or carried out by foreign terrorists. But 12 percent of the respondents said “there are for too many Jews in France.”

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