I started with a guided tour through the Jewish quarter of Paris. Turns out the guide was from Paris Walks and I have already spent the last three years touring Paris with them. I guess this just confirms my conviction that they ARE the best in town.
If you live in Paris, you know the historic rue des Rosiers is the heart of the Jewish quarter in the Marais. Did you know it was called the “Pletzl” (Yiddish word for square) and that a small community had already been living in the Pletzl since the middle ages. Also, Rue Ferdinand Duval was called rue des Juifs from the 13th century until 1900 – a reminder that Jews lived in the neighbourhood centuries ago.
We know that L'As du Fallafel make the best Fallafel in town but did you know that Sacha Finkelsztajn, the traitor on 27, rue des Rosier was the divorcé of Goldenberg (the old restaurant owner on 7, rue des Rosiers) or was it Korcarz the boulanger on 29, rue des Rosiers?
The Boulangerie Murciano always features the menorah - the candelabra with seven branches - in its window along with the most scrumptious croissants, pains au chocolat and Jewish delicacies that I have yet still to taste.
We discovered the Mémorial de la Shoah, a memorial for all the victims who died in the Nazi death camps. It hosts a permanent exhibition, a documentation center, the Memorial of the Unknown Jewish Martyr, a crypt housing the ashes of camp victims and a wall engraved with family names of 76,000 French Jews deported. Throughout the area plaques on the walls recall that the neighbourhood has suffered greatly under occupation.
Moving along we admired the Art Nouveau architecture of the Synagogue de la rue Pavée built in 1914 and designed by Hector Guimard, famous for his green Paris metro stations decorations.
We were bold enough to enter the Oratoire Fleischman which left me speechless. I have never ventured into a Jewish place of prayer or worship. I was intrigued by the plaques hanging from the chandeliers and the white veil at one end of the room, apparently the designated area for the women clearly separated from the men. Being five days after Yom Kippur, we came across a Sukkot, representing a hut in which the Israelites dwelt during their forty years of wandering in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt and in which Jews are supposed to dwell during this week-long celebration.
In the last five years, the many Jewish bakeries, delicatessens, Judaica shops, kosher butchers that once lined these medieval streets have gone, replaced by spiffy new high-end shops, let’s just hope that the Jewish heart and soul of the pletzl won’t be entirely squeezed out.