By Francesca Matalon
The European Center for Judaism, the new Jewish cultural center which is scheduled to open in Paris in 2017 with government funds, represents “the best answer to those who think that the future of French Jews lies elsewhere,” French President Francois Hollande said.
The future of European Jewry was the main focus of Hollande’s meeting with Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, last Monday at the Elysée Palace, where Kantor was appointed Officer of the Légion d’Honneur, the highest French national honor.
“French Jews deserve to live here, to stay here, and to be safe and secure,” Hollande said, replying to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for emigration last January after the attacks at the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo and of the kosher supermarket Hypercacher.
The same ideas were expressed by Joel Mergui, president of the Consistoire Central de France, the umbrella organization of French Jewish institutions. “Many ask if now, when Jews are leaving, is this a good time to build?” he said during a gala dinner to raise funds for the construction of the ECJ held at the City Hall with many national authorities present. “One has the right neither to criticize those who leave nor to determine the future for the majority who stay, he added. This new building shows that we and no one else own that future.”
President Hollande called Kantor “a man of peace, a man of culture, a friend, and a friend of France.” The Legion of honor, he added, is in recognition of his work with the European Jewish Congress in promoting Jewish culture, interfaith dialogue and tolerance, fighting anti-Semitism and racism and preserving the memory of the Holocaust.
Kantor said he sees this award as “a testament to the French Government’s commitment to French and European Jewry.” “I hope that the French government will support and even lead the appointment of a European Union special envoy as well as the creation of a task force on anti-Semitism at the European level has done so well in France,” he called.
The EJC and Kantor are among the chief donors to the European Center for Judaism. The center will house a large synagogue, two exhibition halls, a gymnasium, offices and a large terrace to accommodate a sukkah. The complex, whose construction is scheduled to begin this week, will be situated in the heavily Jewish 17th arrondissement of Paris. The municipality leased the new center’s land to the Consistoire free of charge and French government offices have pledged a quarter of the money required to construct it.
Together with Mergui, many national authorities were at the Hotel de Ville for the gala dinner. Among them, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
Cazeneuve said in his speech that he intends to strengthen the government’s effort in providing security, also in order to prevent the departure of French Jews. “French Jews, he said, are France’s soul.”