A Jewish student group hosted religiously mixed residents at a Sukkot party in a strife-ridden Paris neighborhood.At Sunday’s event, the French Jewish Student Union UEJF was trying to spark dialogue between non-Jewish and Jewish youth in the 19th arrondissement, considered one of the more multicultural and ethnically divided in the French capital.
Community activists were joined by leaders of France’s largest Jewish institutions, the CRIF and the Jewish Consistory, but few non-Jewish or Muslim youth of African origin attended.
The celebration, which included group discussions on Sukkot and Judaism in France, marked the start of similar initiatives in the area, which this summer saw several attacks on Jewish teens that authorities often linked to anti-Judaism.
The low-income neighborhood in northeast Paris has one of the city’s largest number of Orthodox Jews living in close proximity to a larger population of African origin.
“There are very few places for different people to meet here,” said a UEJF volunteer, Raphael Prasquier, who hosted a tour of the sukkah. “If something is hard to do, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.
“We have to start somewhere,” he added about enticing non-Jewish youth to attend.
Jewish leaders from the district were also reluctant to participate, with a few exceptions, said UEJF leader Raphael Haddad. None of the three large synagogues in the area would agree to play host. A secular community center was chosen at the last minute.
“Some [synagogues] said it wasn’t their job, others said they were afraid for their security,” said Haddad about finding a synagogue with an existing sukkah for the event.
Haddad said other rabbis from smaller synagogues that were unable to host did encourage congregants to attend the party.