by Willard Manus
to write about Paris without using such familiar cliches as glamorous,
romantic and enchanting.
The city remains one of the great tourist attractions, not only for the
above qualities but for its food, culture, night life, wine and history.
A significant part of that history belongs to the Jews, whose presence
in Paris dates back to the sixth century. During the Middle Ages, there
were synagogues on the Right and Left banks, as well as on the Ile de
la Cite where the famous flower market later was opened.
In 1858 there were approximately 25,000 Jews living in Paris, with a two-thirds
split in favor of Ashkenazim over Sephardim. Each of the two sects built
a large synagogue, one on 44 rue de la Victoire, the other in rue Buffault.
The architect of the former was Alfred P. Adrophe, a Jew who worked mainly
for the government on international expositions and who later became a
Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. He exhibited views of the stately rue
de la Victoire synagogue at the Vienna Exposition of 1873. For Jewish
clients he also designed the Rothschild Orphanage, the house of Gustave
de Rothschild, and the synagogue at Versailles.
The Sephardic synagogue has been replaced in architectural importance
by the arte nouveau synagogue built on rue Ravee by Hector Guimard, a
Catholic married to a woman of Jewish descent. Guimard's challenge was
to build a synagogue on a narrow plot that would hold a thousand people.
He did it by going up 4 1/2 half stories and installing enormous windows
and skylights which made it more resemble a Metro station than a house
The Jewish quarter centered around rue des Rosiers remains one of the
few pockets of genuine local community life in Paris; most other neighborhoods
having been overwhelmed by gentrification. Although many of the grocers,
bakers, bookshops and cafes are under pressure from the yuppies, the quarter
remains authentically Jewish.
There is a distinctly Mediterranean flavor here, thanks to the influence
of Sephardic emigres from Morocco and Algiers. They have replenished Paris'
Jewish population, depleted when its Ashkenazim, having escaped the pogroms
of Eastern Europe, were rounded up by the Nazis and the French police
and shipped back east to concentration camps.
At 17 rue Geoffroy l'Asnier can be found the Centre de Documentation Juive
Contemporaine which mounts exhibitions concerned with genocide and oppression
of peoples. Archives, galleries and a library are housed here. In the
basement of the building is a striking underground crypt where a huge
black marble star of David contains the ashes of victims from death camps
in Poland and Austria.
The Center encompasses another nearby monument, the Memorial of the Unknown
Jewish Martyr. Erected in March 1992--50 years after the first convoys
of deportees left France--to honor the memory of the six million Jews
who died "without graves," the Memorial has a somber majesty.
In the Montmarte district is the Jewish Art Museum, a small but cheerful
place containing devotional items, synagogue models and a few works by
Pissaro and Chagall. The metro stop is Lamarck-Caulaincourt.
In the 19th century Montmarte was covered with wheat fields and quarries;
today bars and nightclubs have taken over, including the Moulin Rouge,
built in 1885 and turned into a dancehall in 1900. It was a bawdy, uninhibited
place in its early days, immortalized by Toulouse Lautrec in his vivid
posters and paintings. The place still trades shamelessly on the notion
of sinful Paris, even though the show is on a par with a Las Vegas revue.
One more Parisian cliche bites the dust.