Deeply unpopular at home, French president embraced on Israel trip

For Francois Hollande, the most unpopular head of state in France in more than half a century, his first presidential visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority promised a respite from the daily pummeling over his country’s stunted economy and his perceived flimsiness as a leader.

In Israel, everything was set for a hero’s welcome for someone who supported Europe’s blacklisting of Hezbollah’s military unit, waged a relentless war on anti-Semitism and scuttled a nascent deal over Iran’s nuclear program that was stridently opposed by Jerusalem.

“I will always remain a friend of Israel,” Hollande said in Hebrew upon arriving Sunday at Ben Gurion Airport.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned the sentiment, calling Hollande “a leader with principles and deep humanity” — praises that reflect the gratitude many Israelis and French Jews feel toward a man who has transformed France from one of Israel’s fiercest European critics into an important ally.

Controversy threatened to derail Hollande’s visit even before he arrived.

A planned speech to the Israeli Knesset was canceled briefly after Hollande decided he would prefer to follow President Obama’s lead and address university students. Outraged, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein nixed a reception for Hollande and froze cooperation with the French Embassy on the visit.

France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, ended the row on Nov. 9 with his announcement that Hollande would address the Knesset after all.

“I know you rely on your own strength for defense, but know that France is your friend and will not allow Iran access to nuclear arms, for it would a be threat for Israel and the world,” Hollande said in his address to the parliament Monday evening.

“Everything must be done to solve this crisis through diplomacy,” Hollande said, adding: “We shall maintain sanctions until Iran has renounced its nuclear program.”

In the French media, the Knesset incident received considerable play because it touched on Hollande’s Achilles’ heel: His perceived indecisiveness, even among members of his own Socialist Party.

“Hollande is more of a grayish leader. He’s not a star like some of his predecessors, including Francois Mitterrand and Nicolas Sarkozy,” said Daniel Shek, who served as Israel’s ambassador in Paris during Sarkozy’s term from 2007 to 2012.

Along with this perception of weakness, Hollande is contending with a worrisome financial crisis and a large rise in the unemployment rate, which has reached 26 percent among the young — more than triple the rate in Germany. Earlier this month, the Standard & Poor credit agency cut France’s rating for the second time this year, exposing Hollande to the charge that he is not delivering the growth and welfare he promised.

Indeed, popular support for Hollande is at a record low. A poll released Sunday by the market research firm IFOP found that Hollande’s approval rating had plunged to 20 percent, a dramatic falloff from the 54 percent he enjoyed following his election in May 2012 and two points below the previous all-time low set by Mitterrand in 1991.

But on issues of particular importance to French Jews, Hollande has a stellar record. Since his election, hundreds have been arrested and dozens convicted for anti-Jewish violence and incitement. And last year, the president cleared his schedule unexpectedly to accompany Netanyahu to Toulouse for a memorial for the four victims of a French Islamist attack on a Jewish school there in 2012.

Such overtures may make French Jews more forgiving of Hollande’s shortcomings on other fronts — but probably not much.

“It would be incorrect to call Hollande popular among French Jews, who also worry about the economy as all French citizens do,” said Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of Jewish communities in France.

On Israel, Hollande reversed France’s objection to the European Union blacklisting of Hezbollah’s military wing. Then, earlier this month, France blocked a deal between world powers and Iran, taking a harder line than the United States over the terms of an accord.

“These moves were not born of any desire to curry favor with Israel,” Shek said, “[but] the French position was nonetheless appreciated in Jerusalem.”

This was not expected of Hollande when he first sought to replace Sarkozy, a right-leaning leader seen as more responsive to Jewish concerns than his predecessors. Some French Jewish leaders — including Cukierman’s CRIF predecessor, Richard Prasquier — warned that a Socialist in the Elysee Palace may hurt Franco-Israeli relations because of a perceived anti-Israel bias among the French left.

“So far, the opposite has been the case,” said Yaron Gamburg, a media adviser at the Israeli Embassy in France. “If anything, there has been a deepening of the sturdy partnership that existed during the term of Sarkozy.”

In addition to his political support, Hollande has been willing to advance bilateral trade with the Jewish state — something his predecessors limited, many believe, to avoid angering Arab states. French exports to Israel currently stand at $1.5 billion — 33 percent lower than Britain and nearly half the volume of Italy.

Joining Hollande in Israel are dozens of French businessmen, and several bilateral trade agreements are expected to be signed during the visit, which ends Tuesday. In his Knesset speech, Hollande said he has decided to jump-start scientific, cultural and commercial exchange with Israel.

Though Hollande has continued France’s condemnations of Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, in his visit Monday to Ramallah he said the Palestinians should give up their call for a return of refugees to Israel in exchange for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction.

Hollande in the seat of the Palestinian Authority said it was “urgent” that Israel reach an accord that creates a Palestinian state with “joint control” in Jerusalem.

“The Palestinian issue is the one area where France and Israel differ — and even there, under Hollande the French partners are very open,” Gamburg said. “There are no surprises.”

Some argue that such openness is an improvement to relations under Sarkozy, who despite vowing to improve Franco-Israel relations, cast a surprise vote in favor of UNESCO membership for the Palestinian Authority in 2011.

Still, Sarkozy is generally seen as a major improvement over Chirac, who had declared former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon persona non grata in France. Sharon urged French Jews to immigrate to Israel.

“Sarkozy, who raised many hopes, ended up disappointing Jews and Israelis because he was unreliable,” said Joel Rubinfeld of the Brussels-based European Jewish Parliament. “Hollande’s presidency began amid doubts, but ended up instilling trust that Sarkozy never had.”

French group that saved Jews from Nazis snubs Shoah memorial event

A French organization that saved Jews during the Holocaust has declined to attend a commemoration because it was organized by pro-Israel Jews.

The Marseille branch of CIMADE, a French Protestant group established in 1939, declined to attend the region’s main memorial ceremony for Jewish Holocaust victims because of the pro-Israel attitude of CRIF, the umbrella group representing French Jewish communities, which organized the event together with the municipality.

The values that led CIMADE to save Jews make the group “equally committed to oppose the colonial, discriminatory and bellicose policy of Israel with regards to the Palestinians,” CIMADE regional deputies Françoise Rocheteau and Jean-Pierre Cavalie wrote in a letter to the local CRIF branch on Dec. 21. It also said CIMADE was determined to fight “apartheid.”

The letter, which was published online on Feb. 11 by a group which promotes a boycott of Israel, was a reply to an invitation extended by CRIF to CIMADE to attend the 70th commemoration on Jan. 20 of the deportation and subsequent murder of thousands of local Jews.

Marseille had a Jewish population of 39,000 in 1939, according to Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People. Only 10,000 remained after the Holocaust. CIMADE organized “vital relief and later resistance” in connection with the murders, according to Yad Vashem, and helped smuggle Jews to safety. Yad Vashem named Madeleine Barot, who headed CIMADE during the Holocaust, a Righteous among the Nations in 1988. She passed away seven years later.

“We understand our positions may appear unacceptable, making us unwelcome at your commemoration,” the CIMADE representatives wrote. “We cannot keep silent on our convictions but do not wish to cause a scandal.”

Couple suspected of aiding Toulouse killer Merah taken into custody

A man and a woman in the Toulouse area were arrested on suspicion that they helped Mohammed Merah “commit crimes” that may have included the murder of four Jews.

According to L'Express, a French daily, French authorities arrested the two on Tuesday morning. Reports in the French media said there was no use of force.

The French news service AFP named one of the suspects as Charles Mencarelli and reported that he had been arrested in Albi, about 45 miles northeast of Toulouse. AFP described Mencarelli as not having a permanent address. His life partner was arrested at her home in Toulouse, according to the report.

The pair will be brought for arraignment within 96 hours of their arrest, according to  L’Express, during which time they will be interrogated about their links with Merah. They are not suspected of belonging to a jihadist network, an unnamed police source told L’Express.

Merah, a 23-year-old radical Muslim, killed a rabbi and three children in a pre-planned attack on the Otzar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19. The slayings came a few days after Merah gunned down three French soldiers in two drive-by shootings from a scooter near Toulouse. He was shot dead on March 22 by police as they stormed his home.

Tuesday's arrests were headed by France’s domestic intelligence service, DCRI, and the country’s top SWAT team, the anti-terrorist SDAT unit.

Belgium’s local elections cause ‘anti-Semitic flood’

Belgium’s recent local elections triggered “an unprecedented wave of manifestations of anti-Semitism,” according to the country’s organization of French-speaking Jews.

The Oct. 14 election and the campaign that preceded it “were characterized by a flood of anti-Semitic events the likes of which we have never before seen,” Maurice Sosnowski, president of the CCOJB, said in a statement on Wednesday.

In Schaarbeek, a municipality near Brussels, “candidates who belonged to the Jewish community were attacked for their affiliation” and the municipality saw a “hate campaign under the pretext of anti-Zionism,” according to Sosnowski.

On Oct. 8 Belgian Health Minister Laurette Onkelinx complained to police about a pamphlet naming Yves Goldstein, a Jewish member of her party who contended for a seat on the city council of Schaarbeek, an “enemy of Islam.” The Turkish-language pamphlet called him “an active Zionist and an enemy of Islam,” Onkelinx said at a news conference.

The pamphlet was preceded by email warnings to voters to cast ballots against Onkelinx’s and Goldstein’s Socialist Party. Doing so, the email said, would be like “stabbing Palestinians in the back.”

Local politicians have been less resolute than Onkelinx in condemning this “hate speech,” according to the CCOJB statement.

French president blames his country for WWII roundup of Jews

The roundup of thousands of Jews in Paris during World War II was a crime “committed in France, by France,” French President Francois Hollande said.

Hollande was speaking Sunday at a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the largest French roundup of Jews.

Some 13,000 French Jews were deported on July 16-17, 1942 from the Winter Velodrome stadium to Auschwitz, where nearly all of them were killed.

“Not one German soldier, not one was mobilized during this entire operation,” Hollande said.

Hollande also remembered the murder in March of three Jewish students and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse.

Some 76,000 French adults and children were deported to Nazi death camps during World War II; approximately 2,500 survived.

Hollande beats Sarkozy to win French presidency

Francois Hollande became the first Socialist president of France in nearly two decades, defeating incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.

With half the votes counted nationwide, Hollande was leading Sarkozy, 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent. Sarkozy, the center-left candidate, was considered the favored candidate among French Jews.

Sarkozy, of the Union for a Popular Movement party, conceded shortly after the polls closed. He wished his successor luck in handling difficult times in France and in Europe.

“Francois Hollande is the president of the republic; he must be respected,” Sarkozy said.

Polls had showed Hollande finishing with about 52 percent of the vote to 48 percent for Sarkozy, the first French president to lose re-election in 30 years.

Hollande is France’s first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand, who served from 1981 to 1995.

Sarkozy is the ninth European leader to be ousted since the start of the continent’s debt crisis, Bloomberg reported.

After Toulouse attack, French Jews are reconsidering Sarkozy

With the first round of France’s presidential election less than four weeks away, the attacks that left four Jews and three French soldiers dead are reshaping the race—but for now it’s not clear exactly how.

In the days leading up to the attacks, President Nicolas Sarkozy had managed to close most of the gap behind the leader in the polls, Socialist candidate Francoise Hollande, with a rightward turn that included calls by Sarkozy in favor of tougher immigration restrictions and against the labeling of halal meat.

Since the March 19 attack on the Jewish Otzar Hatorah school in Toulouse, Sarkozy has announced several measures to clamp down on right-wing and Islamic extremists. He ordered French security forces to seek out Muslim extremists, barred an influential Egyptian Sunni cleric from attending a conference in France next month and urged TV networks not to air footage of the Toulouse attack and the one on soldiers in nearby Montauban that had been delivered to the Al Jazeera bureau here.

While politicians across the political spectrum condemned the attacks, Sarkozy won praise from the Jewish community for suspending his campaign and flying to Toulouse immediately after the school shooting, calling it “obviously anti-Semitic” and saying that the “whole republic” was mobilized to face the tragedy.

But it’s not clear how long the focus will remain on security before shifting back to the main issue facing France: the economy.

“The political debate will probably refocus on the fundamental economic topics,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist who specializes in right-wing extremism. “Still, it is very important to French Jews to make the population understand that the Toulouse attack does not only concern their community but the whole country.”

French Jews, he said, “will most certainly vote for politicians with solid experience who are able to put in practice legal and credible measures to answer an Islamic threat.”

The latest national polls show Sarkozy and his center-right Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP, trailing Hollande by a percentage point or two in the first round scheduled for April 22, but by a wider gap in a theoretical runoff scheduled for May 6.

Since the Toulouse attack, the National Front, France’s largest far-right party, has tried to take advantage of the changed climate. On Sunday, party leader Marine Le Pen promised to “bring radical Islam to its knees.” In her speech Le Pen, who has been polling at approximately 15 percent, also linked mass immigration with fundamentalism and denounced the risk of a “green fascism.”

Few observers believe that many Jews will opt for the National Front, even though Le Pen has sought to woo Jewish voters and distance herself and her party from the anti-Semitism of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front.

“In 2002, only 6 percent of French Jews voted for the National Front, while the election occurred only a few months after 9/11,” Camus said. “A substantial movement from the Jewish community toward Marine Le Pen is very unlikely.”

The Jewish community, whose 600,000 members represent less than 1 percent of the total French population, remains more supportive of Sarkozy’s party than the general public. But prior to the Toulouse shootings, a survey of the Jewish electorate showed that Sarkozy had lost support among Jews even though he remained more popular than any other single candidate.

According to a March 9 poll from the French polling institute IFOP, Sarkozy’s favorable ratings among Jews had fallen to 43 percent as of January from 62 percent in May 2007, when Sarkozy was elected president. The main reason, said Jerome Fourquet, who directed the survey for IFOP, was France’s economy.

“The trend is similar to the French general electorate’s disaffection with Sarkozy,” Fourquet said. “People are dissatisfied with the economic situation and their purchasing power.”

For many Jews, the economy is not the only source of discontent with the president. In early March, Sarkozy’s prime minister, Francois Fillon, made controversial statements about halal and kosher slaughter rituals, declaring that the “ancestral traditions” in Islam and Judaism were “outdated.”

The comment provoked a strong reaction from Jewish leaders.

“As religion and state are strictly separated in France, politicians should avoid giving their opinion on these topics,” said Richard Prasquier, president of the CRIF, the main French umbrella organization for Jewish institutions.

More widely, French moderates also have expressed concern about Sarkozy’s tilt to the right. A week before the Toulouse shootings, Sarkozy told an audience that France has “too many foreigners” and proposed cutting legal immigration in half.

Thirty years ago, most Jews leaned toward the Socialist Party. Francois Mitterrand, a Socialist who served as president of France from 1981 to 1995, was considered a friend of Israel—an image he developed after his 1982 address to the Knesset, where he emphasized the Jewish state’s right to security.

But the Jewish vote drifted toward the UMP during the second intifada, when many leftist organizations took a pro-Palestinian stance and violence against French Jews soared.

“Violence in the Middle East had a huge impact on this community,” Fourquet said. “During the wave of anti-Semitic attacks in France in the early 2000s, many Jews felt abandoned by the Socialists. This is when the center of gravity started shifting to the right for French Jews.”

Sarkozy was interior minister at the time—serving two stints from 2002 to 2007—and his tough rhetoric and the aggressive measures he championed were credited with helping tamp down the anti-Semitic violence.

How to use Facebook to build friendships between French Muslims and Jews

At a glance, the Muslim-Jewish picnic at the peace fountain in Yitzhak Rabin Garden, in this city’s Bercy Park, looks like a reunion of old friends.

Middle-aged men and women sit on blankets and laugh together, snacking on carrots and Middle Eastern pastries. A circle of women dances wildly to the tunes of a guitarist and tambourine player.

But many of the 100 or so people there have never met—at least not face to face.

They are part of a groundbreaking group that is trying to build bridges between Muslims and Jews in France by fostering a community on Facebook where members can interact directly online about the issues that divide them, and then meet at occasional social gatherings like the recent picnic in Paris.

The group is called Shalom | Paix | Salam—the Hebrew, French and Arabic words for peace.

“It’s revolutionary,” says Mohamed Kamli, a Muslim law student at the Sorbonne and one of the group’s assistant directors. “You don’t have to go up to a random person on the street and say, ‘You have a kipah, let’s talk about some issues.’ ”

The group is trying to change the nature of the relationship of Jews and Muslims in France—one that is marked more by friction and conflict than by friendship. Shalom | Paix | Salam, which is coordinated by five Muslims and five Jews, all volunteers, was launched after Muslim-Jewish tensions in France boiled over during the Gaza War of 2008-09.

The idea wasn’t to avoid the points of conflict but to facilitate debate about complicated issues without allowing participants to “import the conflict between Israel and Palestine,” says Shalom | Paix | Salam’s co-president, Corine Goldberger, who is Jewish.

“Here, we are not in Gaza. We’re not in the West Bank. Here, we are in Paris,” Goldberger, also a human rights journalist at the French version of Marie Claire magazine, tells JTA. “There’s no need to fight.”

Shalom | Paix | Salam now has 1,600 fans on Facebook. Aside from online chatter, the group organizes film screenings, museum tours, lectures, picnics and other meet-ups. Members even held a peace march at the Eiffel Tower.

Patrick Conquy, president of the Paris branch of the Jewish-Muslim Friendship of France, or AJMF, one of the country’s best-known interfaith institutions, says Shalom | Paix | Salam’s use of social networking sets it apart from other dialogue programs.

“A lot of people came to the group by typing something online, very young people tired of being called a Jew or ‘you dirty Muslim,’ ” Kamli says. “In Shalom | Paix | Salam, they found a shelter of positive ideas.”

The organization doesn’t take overtly political stances, though it is pressured to do so, such as after Israeli forces killed nine Turks in a confrontation aboard a flotilla in May 2010 that was trying to evade Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“Putting aside politics is something that isn’t done here in France by the other organizations,” Kamli says.

That approach is what drew two young Parisian Muslim sisters, Sana and Rizlaine Atifi, to the organization.

“It’s very important to connect all people,” Rizlaine Atifi says. “In the world, there are so many problems about religion. In France, we don’t need that.”

Her sister agrees. “You can think whatever you want, but the most important thing is to respect the differences between us,” Sana says. “We can live together very well.”

Beatrice Szwec, a former journalist and longtime Jewish activist, says it’s important to support fledgling groups like Shalom | Paix | Salam.

“Most of us have something else to do on a Sunday, but it’s important to support this,” Szwec tells JTA. “This association is quite young, but if you don’t start something, nothing moves.”

French Riots Show Need for Pluralism

For once, it would appear that Jews, Judaism and Jewish interests are not the target of violence in Paris and in so many cities across France.

After a surge in anti-Semitic hostility and incidents in recent years, that comes as something of a surprise. This time, it appears the rioters are burning their own cars and neighborhoods, rather then aiming their anger at the symbols of some outside enemy.

In today’s France, we witness riots without obvious enemies or proper targets — just bursts of pure anger.

After the burning of thousands of cars and shops, the French government announced two steps and two policies to stop the violence. First, it gave permission to strong repressive measures, such as house arrests and curfews, measures that the government has criticized when used by Israel. It also announced a plan to help the social and economic situation in the affected suburbs, promising to create 57,000 new jobs.

This second step is late and based on the wrong assumption — namely, that the present wave of anger is driven mainly by a harsh economic situation. In truth, this is an insult to the millions of people who struggle every day to make a living, but who never riot because they respect the life and possessions of others.

What’s really at stake is that many of the 7 million Muslim immigrants and their descendants in France feel discriminated against in the French political system, where their religious identity often is seen as suspect.

Unless religious and cultural expressions of identity are permitted and valued in a diverse society, violence is a likely response to the perceived lack of recognition. Only a year ago, the French government banned the use of visible religious symbols, such as the Islamic head covering. This was done in good faith for the higher purpose of secularism, as well as to curb trends of religious radicalism and fundamentalism.

But how wise is it to prevent such expressions of diversity and identity in a society that prides itself on being multicultural? Is France today paying the price of its policy of integration into a society where secularism is seen as the highest value?

What’s taking place these days on the streets of so many French cities should remind us that in a diverse society, it’s dangerous to put one set of values above others. The basis of a diverse society should be a sufficient set of common values that allow citizens to live together, rather then the establishment of a hierarchy of values that elevates some and deprecates others.

Let us not forget that as Jews, we, too, are often first- or second-generation immigrants. More then 75 percent of French Jews are from North Africa. For the Ashkenazim, many do have issues and problems with a French society that only 60 years ago turned its back on us, stripping us of citizenship and denying us protection from the Nazis.

Concerned by the events of the past two weeks, let us go beyond simple condemnations of violence and avoid the trap of playing the secular French card of order and citizenship against the Muslim immigrant card of violence and hooliganism.

The images can be misleading. The real danger today is not the lack of order and the burning of cars, the danger is the political impact that such riots could have on many French citizens.

In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, reached the second round of France’s presidential election. After these riots, we fear that many will again turn to Le Pen and his ilk for simple and radical answers, which could bring to an end the dream of a diverse religious and cultural society.

Two years ago, CEJI, the French acronym for the European Jewish Information Center, warned the French government that diversity should never be taken for granted, and that unless society learns how to deal with pluralism, it will face difficult times ahead. We offered training for teachers and civil servants, but the government didn’t follow up.

Through our work in schools and peer training, implementing the World of Difference educational program and constantly working in the field of Jewish-Muslim dialogue and European integration, we know that education is the key to a peaceful society.

When violence erupts, it’s not the time to give up on our dreams and turn to simple and radical solutions. Rather, today is the time to work even harder to make our dream a reality. By valuing each other and discovering each other, we believe we can still create a more cohesive society in Europe.

Ronny Naftaniel is executive vice chairman of the European Jewish Information Center, and Rabbi David Meyer is a member of its executive board.


Meant to Be

Earlier this year, two remarkable authors came to town and changed the way I thought about being Jewish.

Frederic Brenner, the French photographer, came to speak about his new book, "Diaspora: Exiles at Home" (HarperCollins). The product of 25 years of work, the book contains photographs of Jews living very different kinds of lives in 45 different countries. The images are powerful, as are the accompanying analyses by some of the great thinkers and writers of our time.

There are photos of the Orthodox celebrating Hoshana Rabah in Mea Shearim, "recreating a Polish shtetl," Brenner saidat a reception in his honor, "a reverse journey." And there was a striking photo of a group of Jewish barbers in the former Soviet Union, taken years after Brenner first photographed them in their native land, now posed together in the Dead Sea, in their new home — reinventing an old life in a new land.

The theme, echoing God’s commandment to Abraham, is a powerful one for Brenner: "Get out of your house where everything is fixed and go into the house of wandering," he said. "Whether we’ve wanted to or not, we’ve been recreating this for 4,000 years."

The photographs manage to capture the obvious physical aspects of this journey, but in doing so, they point to the spiritual aspects, too. The result is that although we’ve wandered as a people, from Cochin to Kiryat Arba to the Conejo Valley, each of us has also embarked on a personal Jewish journey, and the sum total of these is the constant re-imagination of what it means to be Jewish, of Judaism itself.

"Jewish identity belongs to the Jew," Brenner said. "It’s not disappearing, it’s reconfigurating. Each fragment of the puzzle needs the other to exist."

I thought of Brenner when a week later, I sat down to speak with Walter Anderson. On the surface, here are two men with little in common. Anderson is CEO of Parade Publications, publisher of Parade Magazine, the largest circulation weekly in America. He is by appearances a card-carrying member of the Eastern Establishment: good name, major corporate title and those lovely patrician manners.

Imagine my surprise to discover that he’s actually Jewish.

No. Imagine his surprise.

Anderson was a 20-year-old Marine serving in Vietnam, when he returned for his father’s funeral. His father, William Anderson, was a cruel, violent man who beat Anderson mercilessly. After the funeral, Anderson turned to his mother and asked, "The man we just buried … was he my father?"

His mother’s answer — that Anderson’s real father was a Jewish man with whom she had spent a single night of adulterous passion — sent him on a journey of spiritual discovery. In his recent memoir, "Meant to Be" (HarperCollins), Anderson reconstructs the mystery of his past. He is blessed that his guide into this Brave Jew World is his close friend from the world of publishing, Elie Wiesel, who acts as rabbi, muse and sounding board.

The Jewish identity Anderson assembles, the Jewish life he now lives, may lack the memory of grandparents and familiar foods and family holidays, but it is rich in an adult appreciation for the wisdom of his tradition.

"I believe in three things," Anderson told me. "I believe there is one God who is indivisible. I believe we are judged in this life by our behavior. And I believe that though we cannot always choose what happens to us in life, but we can always choose our response."

The impact of his mother’s revelation grew slowly, until he found himself on a work-related trip standing before the memorial to the Jews massacred at Babi Yar. "That moment hit me like a slap," he said. "It forced me to recognize who I am. I’m not different from these people. I am of these people."

I found Anderson’s book — and Anderson himself — very moving. His is not only a great story well told, it is in a sense the story of every Jew I know. As much as his Jewishness was revealed to him, Anderson also had to choose how and why to be a Jew.

Making that choice, making it consciously, wisely, with knowledge and passion, is a task each of us faces. It is a personal task with communal consequences.

When I asked Anderson how he responds to those who won’t accept him as Jewish according to some interpretations of Jewish law, he waved it off. "You don’t hold the keys to the club I’m joining," he said. "I know who I am."

Last week, a Hillel Foundation study revealed that today’s college-age Jews are almost evenly divided between those with two Jewish parents and those with only one. The study "underscores what we’ve been saying all along," Paul Golin, spokesman for the Jewish Outreach Institute, told a reporter. These students are on a journey toward forming their identity, and the Jewish community should reach out, constantly and creatively, to help them along. Quite simply, the next generation of Jewish identity is up for grabs.

I might start by sending Anderson around to college campuses. He can tell them that despite his book’s title, the truth is that we are not meant to be anything other than what we choose.

Terrors of the Resistance

The highly controversial French documentary film, “Terrorists in Retirement,” offers a striking revelation that, on reflection, should come as no surprise at all — Eastern European Jews played a prominent role in the most daring exploits of the World War II French resistance movement. This truth comes as a jolt only because French popular myth and official histories have so thoroughly suppressed it, considering it harmful to the nation’s heritage to admit that stateless immigrants, facing deportation and almost certain death, fought harder for France’s freedom than did many citizens who were content to collaborate with their German conquerors.

The film, produced in 1984, sparked a huge uproar in France when a state-television network initially banned it. Now Los Angeles audiences can see for themselves what the brouhaha was all about when “Terrorists in Retirement” — in the original French title, the word “Terroristes” was placed in ironic quotation marks — screens at the Laemmle Theatres this month.

In 1980s France, the basic facts about Jewish resistance fighters were only the beginning of the film’s disturbing disclosures. The most contentious news that the documentary delivered concerned the 1943 betrayal of the main Jewish resistance group based in Paris — the public execution of 23 men arrested by the Gestapo and French authorities. (For propaganda purposes, the Nazis put up a red poster with the dead men’s pictures on it, asserting that France was well rid of these despised foreign troublemakers.) The film’s claim, in few words, is that the French Communist Party was responsible for their deaths.

It’s a complex story, but also a simple one. Much of it is told by a small number of Jewish resistance survivors, men who were in their teens during the war — mainly Polish Jews whose families had fled to France in the 1930s — and who had strong ties to the Communist Party through their parents or because it appeared to be the most militant opponent of fascism.

When the film’s director, Mosco Boucault, an Armenian Jew, found them 40 years later, they were working in obscurity in garment trades. Boucault filmed them at their sewing machines, or with scissors or needle and thread in hand, and somewhat incongruously presents the 60-year-olds re-creating several of their wartime exploits, with extras awkwardly standing around in makeshift uniforms representing German guards or assassination targets.

One of the film’s most important charges maintains that the party’s first betrayal of Jews in France came through the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, the non-aggression treaty that was in place when the Nazis overran France and set up the Vichy regime. When Jews were ordered to register and even when the first roundups occurred, the resistance survivors recall, the party’s advice was to acquiesce. By the time the Nazis invaded Russia and the Communists resumed the struggle, it was too late: The apparatus for deporting Jews to the camps from France was firmly in place. (At that time, the film suggests, the Jews’ dire situation served as an effective recruiting device for the resistance — fight or die, or at least die fighting.)

After nearly an hour of filling in the background, the film abruptly opens the debate over the 1943 betrayal. A fighter who had been captured and tortured had revealed many details about the Jewish group to the Germans. Communist leaders were aware for some time that police and Gestapo agents were tracking the Jews (as well, as Spanish, Italian and other foreign segments of the resistance organization). The question is, why were the endangered fighters not sufficiently warned or hidden or sent to other regions? (Among the survivors interviewed, several had chanced to go out of Paris at the time of the mass arrests.)

The film — bolstering its grim argument by interviewing several French historians — contends that the Communist resistance needed to get rid of its foreign fighters at just that time. Maneuvering had already begun toward post-liberation political alignments: With Charles de Gaulle’s Free French movement either a potent rival or a potential ally, the Communist resistance wanted to ready itself for postwar power struggles by refashioning itself as quintessentially, patriotically French. That its fiercest and most effective fighters were Jews and other foreigners was a major handicap that the roundup conveniently took care of. In fact, if it hadn’t been for that red Nazi propaganda poster, about which the literary surrealist Louis Aragon later wrote a poem, the significance of the non-French role in the resistance might have been almost completely lost.

The battle over the film back in the 1980s took place while the French Communist Party was still a viable political force. Reports at the time suggest that the party began agitating against the film as soon as it heard about the production, several years before the work had been completed. As one of his narrators, Boucault enlisted actress Simone Signoret, who had recently broken with the Communists after having been a longtime supporter — a casting choice that surely increased the film’s potential damage to Communist mythology.

Some 16 years after it was made, “Terrorists in Retirement,” if at times unpolished, tells a tragic and compelling story.

“Terrorists in Retirement” screens Nov. 23-Dec. 8 as part of the Laemmle Theatres’ “Bagels and Docs” A Jewish Documentary Series.” For information, call (310) 478-1041.

French Teens in L.A. Share Their Fears

From a distance, the 23 teens hanging out in the Adat Ari El courtyard in Valley Village look like American high school students on a break between classes. A thin, bespectacled boy in a sporty T-shirt sings along with the J.Lo and Ja Rule tune on his headphones, while a pretty girl spoons peanut butter out of a jar to share with her friends. A car pulls up at the front of the building and a petite girl in a floral tank top and low-rise jeans hops out and joins the group. Yet, her telltale greeting, a smooch on both cheeks and a hearty "bonjour!" distinguish these students from their American counterparts.

The teens are visiting Los Angeles on a three-week French Jewish exchange program called CAEJ (Centre Anglo European Jeunesse Juive/British European Center for Jewish Youth). While visiting places, such as Universal Studios, Dodger Stadium, Hurricane Harbor and the Museum of Tolerance, the students stay with Jewish families, practice their English and soak up Jewish American culture. But while searching for celebrities and bonding with new friends, the students can’t help but remember the anti-Semitic experiences they’ve had back in France.

When discussing his life in Rueil Malmaison, a Paris suburb, 16-year-old Oliver Dahan’s usually goofy antics disappear. "In France, you can’t wear a kippah if you don’t want to be hurt," he says. Dahan then recounts the story of some friends who dared to don their yarmulkes on the street. "The [Arab] people came to fight them and they had to run fast." Carole Teboul, 16, from Paris, says that she always hides her Star of David necklace under her shirt when she rides the subway or the bus at home. "Sometimes old men or old women will yell, ‘Kill all Jews!’ when I’m on the bus. They are very narrow-minded," she says.

Laura Schusselblum, 16, hails from the northern city of Strasbourg. "I live in the Jewish quarter of my town. A lot of synagogues have been burned. We have one or two Jewish cemeteries and they put graffiti on the tombstones. It’s like the intifada. It’s very hard to live," she says sadly.

Some of the students admitted they felt safer as Jews on the streets of Los Angeles. The teens link the violence against Jews with angry Arab activists. Most have negative associations with Muslims, although Schusselblum said that the few Muslim students at her school are "very nice." Jean Charles Aouizerate, the 23-year-old chaperone for the group, says, "It disturbs me that we talk about Arabs all the time. We put them all in the same bag and it doesn’t seem right."

Through CAEJ, the students are able to escape the religious hardship at home and experience Judaism in another part of the world. CAEJ was founded in 1966 by Charles Labiod, a Parisian Jew of Tunisian descent, who is an active member of the French Jewish community. Labiod is a member of the Consistoire Central de France, an umbrella organization that unites many synagogues countrywide. Labiod founded CAEJ when he learned that Jewish adolescents on foreign exchange programs were often placed with non-Jewish host families. Since then, he has organized programs for Jewish youth and families from France. Participants can travel to England, Israel, the Alps and Los Angeles.

In a recent visit to Los Angeles, Labiod addressed congregants at Adat Ari El about Judaism, France and Israel. "[President Jacques] Chirac likes the Jews in France," he said. "He is very proud and protective of the Jews. As for Israel, it’s like the crusades of South Africa. He believes Israel will just fade away and disappear." Labiod is clearly baffled that Chirac makes such a huge distinction between Israel and Jews at large.

The students concurred with Labiod’s assessment. While they say that their experiences with anti-Semitism are disturbing, many of them refuse to remain passive. During the government elections a few months back, Dahan remembers seeing graffiti around his town that said things like "Death to the Jews."

"When I see this stuff, I erase it or scratch it off," he says, "I’m not afraid of getting caught."