Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Street of Rosebushes

After assuring me that life was wonderful, with no problems, the young Hasid I was talking with glanced at his friend and said, “Well, there was that time when Palestinians marched through the streets.”

“Oh, and remember that night when they threw stones at all our doors? That was scary.”

“Is that why the police vans are blocking the Rue de Rosiers?” I asked. “Do they feel a need to guard you?”

I was in the Marais, the traditional Jewish Quarter of Paris, talking to two young Hasidic men I had approached on the street. I spotted them as I was leaving the district, and they happily answered, ‘yes’ when I asked them if they spoke Hebrew.

They were thrilled when I told them I was from Israel, and wished me a warm welcome. I told them that in Israel we hear that France is dangerous for Jews, and they quickly told me I didn’t have to worry, no one would ever think I was Jewish.

The conversation above started after I explained that I was wondering how life was for them.

When I started to plan my visit to Paris, my husband made a request. "Please don't go to the Jewish Quarter. I don't want to have to worry about you."

His words didn't surprise me. Newspapers in Israel regularly run articles on how dangerous France has become for its Jewish citizens, and I remember when there were terror attacks in Paris's Jewish Quarter.

I assured him I would be careful, and promised not to take the private walking tour of the area that I had been considering.

But after three days of riding the metro, and seeing Jews in yalmulkes and in chassidic garb ri
ding without being harrassed, I decided to visit the Marais.

On Sunday morning, I took the metro to the St. Paul station, and after a few minutes walk down narrow, pleasant lanes found my path blocked by two large police vans.

I had arrived at Rue de Rosiers (the Street of Rosebushes), the heart of the Jewish Quarter.

The street was filled with pedestrians. Rue de Rosiers is a pleasant brick-lined pedestrian mall, populated with clothing stores. You have to walk a couple of blocks before you get to the Jewish area.

The first thing that struck me was that all the Jewish and kosher stores have large Stars of David on their awnings, and painted on their windows. It was a bit creepy- for the first time in my life I felt like I was in a ghetto.

There were bakeries, falafel stores, book stores, and cafes, all bustling with customers. I went into a bakery and asked the young man behind the counter if he spoke Hebrew. He told me he did, and I asked if he would mind my asking him a few questions.

When I asked if he felt Paris was dangerous for Jews, he gave me a strange look and said no, it was perfectly safe, and that Jews had a very good life. I bought some cookies, and continued walking down the street.

The day was pleasant, and I ventured down alley ways and into small squares. The main streets were a mix of stylish clothing stores and busy cafes, but the side streets were quiet residential areas. I saw a few mezuzah adorned doorways, but most of the area seemed newly gentrified, with little indication that it was a center for Jews.

A short while later I spotted my Hasidic friends.

Their response to my question about the police vans was that it was probably because it was Sunday, and the police were expecting a lot of people, and wanted to make sure there wasn't any trouble.

"But don't worry," they repeated. "You have nothing to worry about. You really don't look Jewish at all."

"Rue de Rosiers" painting by
Mary Ellen Mueller-Legault

No comments: