“…The captain impresses upon me that the deployment is a direct response to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and on Jewish people in Porte de Vincennes, and that this level of force is not typical. Looking around the town, however, one sees clearly that security was a grave concern in Sarcelles long before anybody heard the name “Kouachi.” The other synagogue — which also has a considerable military presence — is set back from the road, behind thick iron gates. To enter, visitors must first announce themselves to a remotely viewed camera and, if deemed acceptable, undergo a brief interview with a security guard. Similar rules are in force at the school, which is completely surrounded by a tall, spike-topped, steel fence and guarded by a patrolman in a wooden hut. The locals have seen this coming.
At the smaller of the two synagogues, Rabbi Max Bensoussan agrees to take my questions, welcoming me warmly into a cold, dark storage room that he describes wryly as his “office.” He and his congregation are “traumatized” by recent events, he says, but they are not surprised. During the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians last August, spontaneous anti-Jewish demonstrations broke out in Sarcelles — demonstrations that quickly turned violent. “This was not jihad as much as it was hatred of the Jews,” Bensoussan recalls. “Black Africans and North Africans who were not from this area brought steel bars to their protest. They set fire to cars and trash cans, and they smashed up Jewish-owned shops.”
By all accounts, it could have been a great deal worse. Indeed, the vandals — 200 or so men who openly sang “Slaughter the Jews” — were prevented from directly attacking the town’s main synagogue only by a team of volunteers who, along with a sprinkling of riot police, stood firm before the temple’s gates. Frustrated by the defenders, the mob eventually changed course, electing instead to firebomb a smaller synagogue in nearby Garges-lès-Gonesse. The physical damage was minimal. The psychic damage, however, was grievous.
“I understand why Benjamin Netanyahu wants French Jews to move to Israel,” Bensoussan concedes. “But I want to stay here and live as I want to live. I don’t want to be kicked out.” Usually, he says, the police protect Jews well. But lawmen cannot be everywhere at once and, occasionally, the criminals get their way. In general, he tells me, attacks “happen only from time to time. But in the subway they are daily — especially on those who are wearing a kippah or who are in traditional dress. That happens all the time.”
This is our future.