The magic of Le Marais

After two weeks in Paris – including a reporting trip to Amsterdam and a personal weekend in Lyon – I finally visited Le Marais, Paris’s iconic Jewish neighborhood.

Though larger, newer Jewish communities have cropped up in other Paris neighborhoods like Belleville and Pantin, Le Marais is still the historical center of the city’s yiddishkeit.

The essential street is Rue des Rosiers, a winding cobblestoned pathway that reminds you that Le Marais — spread out over the city’s third and fourth arrondissements — is not just Paris’s Jewish neighborhood. It’s also its medieval one.

A handful of kosher patisseries and falafel shops line the streets, sandwiched in between the high-end clothing stores and art galleries that have cemented the neighborhood in recent years as a haven for Paris’s young and hip. The quarter is also emerging as a central place for the Parisian gay and Chinese communities.

On one corner, Goldenberg’s – a longtime kosher institution that served as the center of Le Marais until it closed in 2006 – has reopened as an Urban Outfitters-type store, retaining the restaurant’s former signage and façade.
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With my limited French and my limited time – it was my 22nd birthday, after all, and I was off to attend one of Paris’s famous bals de pompiers­ held on the eve of Bastille Day – I didn’t spend more than a few hours soaking up the ambience and the magic of Le Marais.

But even if the neighborhood’s character is fading, the chance to see Hebrew lettering and feel the weight of a shared history is addictive, just as it’s been all over Europe so far.

The excellent English-language service Paris Walks plans cheap 12-euro walking tours of the neighborhood several times each week. They break Le Marais into two “circuits,” promising not just a look at the area’s Jewish attractions, but also sights like the house of Victor Hugo, and Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris.

Many worry that Goldenberg’s departure is part of a larger reimaging of the neighborhood as a bastion of luxury and elegance, not a workable, livable neighborhood for modern Parisan Jews. That’s a story I’d like to pursue further during my time in the city.

I’m hoping to return soon, perhaps with a translator so I can better document the ways in which Le Marais has continued to reinvent itself over centuries.
 

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