Under pressure


Though the history of French Jews has been complicated and sometimes tense, that’s no reason for American Jews to avoid the country.

Just ask Toni Kamins, the author of "The Complete Jewish Guide to France" and a similar travel book about Britain and Ireland.

A longtime Francophile and former observant Jew, Kamins decided to release her travel guide after realizing how difficult it was to find Jewish historical sights in France — and also more practical concerns, like synagogues and kosher restaurants.

"Hey schmuck, you’re a journalist — do it better," Kamins said she told herself at the time.
Kamins’s book did well, but had the misfortune of being released on Sept. 11, 2001 — a fact that she said quashed plans for the travel series to extend beyond the two books she’s already written.

Speaking to me via Skype, Kamins told me it’s important for Jews around the world to recognize the unique situation French Jews find themselves in.

"I have never perceived France to be a dangerous place," she told me. "I’m not saying it’s not a cause for concern, but … to say that Jews shouldn’t go to France is an overreaction because there’s a sizable community there that wants to be and should be supported."

In the States, we sometimes struggle the challenges French Jews face, she said — because the U.S. Muslim population is better integrated and because American Jews never had to deal with the horrors of the Shoah on our own turf.

France’s Muslim population is often relegated to the immigrant suburbs of cities like Paris and Marseille. When they first arrived, French society didn’t want to integrate them, and now that the French government is trying to absorb and assimilate them, the country’s Muslims just aren’t interested.

After World War II, Jewish immigrants faced similar pressures, Kamins said — but they reacted very differently.

"French Jews are very well-integrated into French society. You’ll find them at every level in every industry," she said. "The same social conditions but very different outcomes."

Connecting with people on the ground, I’ve been focused on the micro — new initiatives, interesting characters, the very specific pressures a given organization or city is facing. When I spoke to Kamins, I got a much-needed dose of the macro, and I appreciate her for it.

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