Sold Marseille synagogue to become mosque

A synagogue in the center of the French city of Marseille was sold to a Muslim association that is planning to turn it into a mosque.

The Or Thora synagogue on Saint Dominique Street near the Saint-Charles train station was sold a few months ago for approximately $400,000 to the Al Badr Association ahead of its reopening in the summer, the local daily La Provence reported Tuesday.

The switch reflects a demographic shift in which, over the past 16 years, tens of thousands of Marseille Jews have left its once heavily Jewish center for the city’s more affluent suburbs, La Provence reported.

Saint Dominique Street already has one mosque operated by the Al Badr Association, La Provence reported, but the group is looking for another one because it is so crowded that Muslim worshippers pray on the sidewalk on Fridays. Meanwhile, Or Thora, which has a capacity of 250, sometimes has as few as 10 worshippers.

Marseille, a seaside city of 800,000, has about 250,000 Arab residents and 80,000 Jews.

Responding to anti-Semitic attacks over Israel, Jews in the city have gravitated away from center and northern Marseille in favor of middle-class neighborhoods in its south in greater numbers than before the year 2000, according to Elie Berrebi, the director of Marseille’s Central Jewish Consistoire.

Approximately 80 percent of Marseille’s Jews now live in that part of town, he said. Arab families also are migrating from the center northward and eastward to working-class areas.

As Jews took up residence in southern Marseille, they stopped frequenting synagogues in the center, which many local Jews consider unsafe.

From October to January, Marseille saw three stabbings of Jews by assailants who are believed to be Muslim or Arab.

Still, according to Zvi Amar, president of the Marseille branch of the Consistoire — an organ of French Jewry responsible for supplying religious services — the overall Jewish population of Marseille has not diminished despite “the naturally occurring population shift” within its borders.

“There are many synagogues left in Marseille,” he said. “There were 32 in the 1990s; now that figure is almost double.”

Marseille Jews split on proposal to remove kippah for safety

Representatives of the Jewish community of Marseille issued conflicting statements on whether Jews should hide their kippah in the southern French city following a spate of anti-Semitic stabbings.

Tzvi Amar, president of the local office of the Consistoire, the French Jewish community’s organization responsible for religious services, was quoted Tuesday by Le Figaro as saying Jews should “remove the kippah during these troubled times” because “the preservation of life is sacrosanct.”

But Michele Teboul, president of the local branch of CRIF – an umbrella group that represents French Jewish communities politically as a lobby – told JTA that she “could not support a measure which dials back hundreds of years during which Jews were able to practice their faiths and live freely as citizens of the French Republic.”

Jewish individuals “should decide whether to wear a hat on top of their kippah, depending on the situation, but removing one’s kippah seems unwarranted,” Teboul said.

Amar’s statement, which he said “turns his stomach” and is born of “grave circumstances that require extraordinary measures,” came after the stabbing of a Jewish man in Marseille on Tuesday, allegedly by a 15-year-old Muslim radical. He sustained minor injuries.

In November, a Jewish teacher was stabbed and seriously injured by a man who hurled insults at him along with two other men, one of whom was wearing a T-shirt with the logo of the Islamic State terrorist group. The previous month, a Frenchman of Algerian descent stabbed a Jewish man who was returning from synagogue and assaulted two others, including a rabbi.

Marseille has 80,000 Jews in a total population of approximately 850,000. About a third of its residents are Muslim, according to estimates.

Israel closing five consulates, including Philadelphia

In a budget-cutting move, Israel is closing five of its diplomatic offices around the world.

The affected consulates are in Philadelphia, Belarus, El Salvador and Marseilles, France, along with a “roving ambassador” to the Caribbean, The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the saved money will go toward existing consulates and embassies.

The Philadelphia consulate was initially scheduled to be shut down two years ago, but was left standing after the local Jewish community and local politicians objected, according to the Post.

In addition to its embassy in Washington and the Philadelphia consulate, Israel has consulates in eight other U.S. cities: New York, Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

French Jewish teacher wounded in anti-Semitic stabbing in Marseille

A Jewish teacher in the French city of Marseille was stabbed by a man wearing an Islamic State T-shirt who shouted anti-Semitic profanities at him with two other men.

The victim, a history teacher at a Jewish school, suffered injuries that were not considered life threatening, the French news agency AFP reported, citing an account of the Wednesday night incident by the chief of police of the Bouches-du-Rhone district.

The attackers fled and are the subject of a manhunt, according to the chief, Laurent Nunez.

The teacher, a bearded, observant Jew, was wearing a kippah, Michele Teboul, the president of the local branch of the CRIF umbrella of French Jews, told JTA. A young man approached the teacher on a moped in the 13th arrondissement, or district, and showed him a picture of Mohammed Merah, the Islamist who killed a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012. The picture was on the motorcyclist’s cellular phone, Teboul said.

The attacker also showed the teacher, who asked not to be named in the media, that he was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the symbol of the Islamic State terrorist group.  Then the man produced a knife and stabbed the teacher, who sustained superficial injuries, Teboul said. The two other suspects believed to have been involved in the attack stood by, joining in when the attacker began shouting anti-Semitic profanities. They did not stab the victim.

The teacher filed a complaint with police as he was being treated, and was evacuated to the hospital. On her way to visit the teacher in hospital, Teboul confirmed initial reports that his life was not in danger. She added that the victim was conscious.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the multiple terrorist attacks that took place in Paris on Nov. 13. At least 129 people were killed.

The Anti-Defamation League said it was “alarmed and saddened” by the stabbing.

“Anti-Semitism is a core tenet of Islamic extremist ideology, attacks on Jews by ISIS sympathizers should come as no surprise,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a press release.

On Oct. 24, a French man of Arab descent assaulted three Jews in Marseille as they were walking home from synagogue. He stabbed one and hit two others — a rabbi in his 50s and his 19-year-old son — wounding them lightly. The stabbing victim was seriously hurt but survived.

As anti-Semitic attacks against French Jews have become more common in recent years, Marseille, which has approximately 80,000 Jews, has seen fewer of the incidents than Paris in absolute numbers and proportionately. But Teboul said Islamist extremism, disseminated online and through satellite television, “is sadly changing the Marseille we used to know.”

What’s next for the Jews of France?

Maurice Benhamou, a Jewish citizen of France who lives in the coastal city of Marseilles, just a three-hour train ride from Paris, is not afraid.

But the Algerian-descended Benhamou, 69, is among a minority of Jews living in France who, despite the recent terror attack at a kosher supermarket and years of rising anti-Semitism, insist on remaining in France. 

“I’m not afraid,” Benhamou said during a phone interview from his home in Marseille on Jan. 18, translated by his English-speaking daughter, Los Angeles resident Carole Slama. “The community is not afraid. We feel confident that we can secure our shul and our community.”

But in the weeks since the murderous terrorist attacks in Paris at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher, anxiety among Jews living in France has reached alarming levels. Over the past decade, a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism among radicalized Muslim immigrants and a spate of attacks targeting Jews — including a shooting at a school in Toulouse and the kidnapping and killing of a French-Jewish cell-phone salesman — have left Jewish citizens of France wondering whether they have a future there.

Even the French government demonstrated deep concern for its Jewish citizens, immediately deploying thousands of French military personnel to guard synagogues and Jewish schools. On the Shabbat right after the attacks, Benhamou said, many families stayed home, especially those with young children. And in places like Marseille, France’s second-largest city, Benhamou said a climate of general anxiety has gripped even non-Jewish citizens: streets ordinarily bustling with people — strolling, shopping, sitting in cafes — have become quieter, nearly deserted. 

“It’s not only Jewish people — even local people don’t go out,” Benhamou said. “This time of year, after the holiday, it’s the big sale in France — everything is discounted. But nobody is in the street.”

Things are even eerier at night. 

The pizzeria Benhamou owns and operates is just adjacent to the Lubavitch shul where he davens, so customers have continued to come at night because the shul is under the strict, round-the-clock protection of the military. According to Benhamou, six military officers and one police officer rotate shifts over a 24-hour period, taking turns sleeping and showering, using facilities outside the synagogue’s mikveh. Because of the guards’ presence, Benhamou has been able to keep his business open late, but he worries what will happen come Jan. 27, when the military is expected to recall its troops.

“When they leave, I am not sure we’re going to have any business at all,” he said of his nighttime clientele.  

In anticipation, Benhamou said the synagogue has convened the community to organize its own security plan. Young men and women trained in Krav Maga — the Israeli-developed self-defense system that combines boxing, jujutsu, wrestling and other combat techniques — will remain on guard along barricades protecting the shul from unwanted visitors. However, even if the presence of citizen guards is a deterrent, it will be a superficial one, as the young citizen guards will not be armed. “If people come over with Kalashnikovs and electronic weapons, there’s nothing we can do,” Benhamou admitted.

Further worrying, people throughout France are wondering how the country will handle the reabsorption of the approximately 1,000 young militants who left France to receive training from Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.  

“It’s really nice of France right now to guard us, but what are we going to do with all these [young militants] when they come back? Put them in prison? What’s going to happen?” Benhamou asked.

“The military security is temporary relief, but it is not a long-term solution.”

Benhamou noted that many in the Jewish community are exploring making aliyah. In 2014, nearly 7,000 French Jews left for Israel, and some expect to see that number double in 2015. But for many other Jews, like Benhamou, who have long-established routines, resources and connections in France, moving to a new country and starting a new life is not so easy. 

“It’s really difficult to leave a place when you have a job. What are you going to do in a new place? Where are you going to work? How are you going to live?”

Benhamou added that many of the Jews who have made aliyah already have relatives, connections or resources in Israel, perhaps even second homes.

And yet, even though Benhamou has two sons in Israel, he said he can’t quite muster the will to leave.

“Right now, I would love to go — but I can’t,” he said. “I’m not young anymore. I have my routine and my stuff, and it’s hard for me to leave everything.” 

For better or worse, he is willing to remain in France and take his chances there. 

“The word is emunah” — faith, Benhamou explained. “At the end of the day, I believe that whatever will be, will be. If I need to die here from a terrorist attack — whatever should happen, should happen.”

Poland is the safest place in Europe for Jews today

I survived the Holocaust in a sub-cellar in Tarnopol (Ternopil), a city now located in western Ukraine that once had a thriving Jewish as well as Polish population. Before coming to the U.S., I grew up after the war in France when philo-Semites like Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, as well as Pierre Mendès France, the country’s second Jewish prime minister, were luminaries. Jewish origins have been an important part of that nation’s genius from Montaigne to composers as different as Giacomo Meyerbeer and Jacques Offenbach; to painter Camille Pissarro; to the inventor of sociology Emile Durkheim; to the writer Marcel Proust; to the philosopher Henri Bergson; to the actor Sarah Bernhardt; to the movie superstar Jean-Pierre Aumont; to the groundbreaking writer Georges Perec; to the multitalented Serge Gainsbourg … to mention only a few. 

Today I am under the impression that France has forgotten about its Jewish cultural roots. The televised events from the streets of Paris and Marseilles fill me with sadness and consternation. In the middle of July, thousands of Muslims, along with some anti-Semitic French Catholic demonstrators, walked through the center of Paris shouting “death to the Jews.” They burned cars, vandalized Jewish stores and, as reported by the press, a number of them, armed with knives, threw stones and bottles at the Isaac Abravanel Synagogue not far from the Bastille.

I read that the polls indicate that as many as 40 percent of French Jews hide Jewish symbols. It is not surprising, as so many incidents of anti-Semitism happen daily in France.

It is not better in other parts of Western Europe. A bomb was planted in the new synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany; swastikas were painted on stores in the Jewish quarter of Rome; Israeli soccer players were attacked in Austria. These are but a few examples of the daily realities faced by European Jews. It is not just a one-time eruption of anti-Semitism by Muslim immigrants caused by the actions of Israel in the Gaza Strip. The hatred of Jews in Western Europe has been growing for many years. More and more, it is expressed by elites and the educated middle class.

Italy’s most popular philosopher and inveterate anti-Semite, Gianni Vattimo, told interviewers on Italy’s Radio 24 that he wanted Europeans “to buy Hamas some more rockets” to “shoot those bastard Zionists” because Hamas’ current arsenal is limited to “toy rockets that don’t really kill anyone.” He wants to forget and not have to apologize for his fascist grandparents’ atrocities committed in Abyssinia, Guernica, the Balkans and Greece. One of Spain’s most popular playwrights, Antonio Gala — an obvious anti-Semite — has written justifying the historical Jewish expulsions with the implication that Western Europe should become Judenrein again to punish Israel for supposedly slaughtering innocent Palestinians. He seems to ignore the fact that after the expulsion of Jews from Spain, his country slid into scientific and intellectual obscurity. Today Spain, with a population 25 percent larger than Poland, boasts fewer than half of Poland’s Nobel Prize recipients.

The problem has been noticed and taken up by world media. From a Newsweek cover story, to newspaper pieces titled “The Next Kristallnacht” or even “The Next Holocaust,” the stories about current and future prospects of European Jewry are extremely grim.  A month or two ago, the Economist magazine ran an editorial arguing that, all things considered, Jews were safer in Europe than in Israel. Of course, that was before the latest eruptions of “violent anti-Israel riots threatened to turn Paris into the West Bank.”

If history repeats itself, then perhaps the unthinkable — an exodus, under threats of physical harm to Jews — will again become thinkable. I want to propose the hypothetical question: If Western Europe’s Jews need to leave again, en masse, in what direction should they go? And where would they find the most hospitable welcome? I assume here, for the sake of argument, that they would not choose to go to an embattled, unsafe and crowded Israel.

Let us focus first on whether America would offer safe haven, as the New World sometimes has for half a millennium. I myself was among the fortunate survivors ultimately embraced by the U.S., where I advanced to the Ph.D. candidacy in French literature at UCLA in the early 1960s before going into business and becoming a  hotelier. If you had asked me when I first came to America as a young man whether America would provide safe haven to a new mass Jewish influx — a subject in which I developed a keen interest — I would have had grave doubts.

Let us not forget that in America levels of anti-Semitism were sky high both before World War II (when Father Coughlin was admired by tens of millions of radio fans for his anti-Jewish diatribes) and during World War II (when it wasn’t safe for Jewish youngsters to walk the streets of Boston). Rafael Medoff, in his latest book, has documented the political timidity and/or prejudice that caused FDR not to “lead from behind” on the refugee issue like President Obama is now doing, but not to lead at all. Remember that open German immigrant quotas were unfilled during the 1930s because of anti-Semitic U.S. consular bureaucrats. Remember also the fiasco of the 1938 Evian Conference, when the U.S. and Britain refused Hitler’s offer to deport as many Jews as they would accept, and the turning away in 1939 of the doomed SS St. Louis, which the Coast Guard prevented from landing on the shores of Florida. 

Even immediately after the war, U.S. polls reflected strong opposition to admitting large numbers of Jewish DPs (displaced persons). This was “the post-Final Solution” proposed, for example, by anti-Zionist Jews who vainly promoted it as an alternative to creating the state of Israel. 

Only later did the unsuccessful Hungarian Revolution of 1956 begin to change attitudes in a big way, making admitting non-Jewish anti-communist refugees fashionable, and after 1960, when JFK sold himself as president of “a nation of immigrants,” a vision that posthumously triumphed in the Immigration Reform Act of 1965. Then in 1967, Israel’s underdog victory in the Six-Day War electrified Christian as well as Jewish Americans, and anti-Semitism began to ebb dramatically.

I would argue that America is still passing through a half-century window of opportunity for a Jewish haven, beginning in the 1960s, when American Jews, though declining as a percentage of the population, achieved unprecedented success and influence in the intellectual, economic, cultural and political realms.

However, I think it is appropriate to pose the uncomfortable question: Is the current window of favorability toward Jews — and probable hospitability of the U.S. sheltering a new Jewish influx, if that proved necessary — destined to last forever? If Jewish-Muslim conflict continues at a high level in the Mideast; if the American Muslim population increases over the course of time from 2-3 percent to 8-10 percent, on the order of France now; and if New York and Washington politically take on the coloration of Paris, will the favorable window to a new Jewish influx persist — or will that window close to a mass influx of Jewish refugees?

This leads me to my last question and challenge. Should European Jews cover their bets, not by abandoning Europe, but by moving east the way their ancestors did when expelled in the hundreds of thousands from practically every part of Europe from the 13th to the 16th centuries? Despite the reality of anti-Semitism promoted by the Catholic Church, the Jewish community of Poland-Lithuania, from the time of the Statute of Kalisz (1263), achieved an unprecedented level of communal autonomy. This translated into economic dynamism; a last flowering of kabbalah; new religious creativity among both the Chasidic and the anti-Chasidic movements, including both traditionalists and modernizers; Jewish self-government through the kehillah system;  and Jewish-Polish cross-fertilization reflected, for example, in Jews fighting for Poland in both the anti-Russian revolutions of 1831 and 1863. During much of these long centuries, Poland was the only country in Europe to willingly admit Jews — for that, we Jews owe Poland an everlasting debt of gratitude. Also inadequately understood is the degree to which Jews reciprocated this hospitality by enriching Polish intellectual and cultural life.

Today’s March of the Living, during which young American Jews renew their Polish family roots before visiting Israel, has some unfortunate side effects. One is to reinforce the current view of Polish-Jewish history as a white versus black affair generating nostalgic sentiment for the shtetl, on the one hand, and nightmarish recoil from the Holocaust on the other. There was much more richness, complexity and nuance to Polish-Jewish history over more than 700 years than suggested by shtetl sentimentality versus Holocaust horrors.

I believe that Poland, once again, could become a beacon for West European Jews wanting to start over in a safe family environment but not to abandon Europe. Poland could even serve as a haven and headquarters country for European Jewish business elites whose interests are global. Some reasons are the hospitality of the Polish people, despite residual prejudices kept alive by a slow-to-reform Catholic Church; the openness of the Polish economy to Jewish entrepreneurship; and Poland’s receptivity to Jewish culture, as reflected in the concept enunciated by Polish intellectuals and journalists of the phantom limb. The once-thriving but now near-extinguished population has been compared to the missing limb of an amputee that no longer exists but still has feeling. Many intellectuals and students paraphrase the greatest Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, who may himself have had Jewish roots — Jew, “you are like health, cherished only once it had been lost.”

But there is another reason. Let us be candid — Anti-Jewish Islamization hasn’t happened and isn’t expected to happen during the next half-century the way it has in Western Europe and may even happen in America. It is also reassuring to know that Poland’s neighbor to the west, the most powerful country in Europe, is its ally and the ally of Jews and Israel. For generations now, Germany has taken upon itself the task to oppose anti-Semitism in Germany and beyond and has staunchly supported Israel and its right to exist. Germany has been a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Eastern European Jews, has encouraged further growth of its Jewish population and would have great allure were it not for its large and growing Muslim population that is not immune to radicalization.  All of this creates a new Polish “window of opportunity.” 

Among other benefits to Poland, the returning Jews would bring with them their experience of teaching at the highest level of academia and further enhance the Polish institutions of highest learning. (It is worth noting that about a third of the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences are Jews.)  Their knowledge of economics, international trade and business in general would help turn Warsaw into a major European financial center. Jews have a highly developed sense of responsibility for the community at large; an example of which would be Leopold Kronenberg’s construction in 1875 of the Warsaw Business School and later the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, for which he was the initiator and one of the main benefactors. The presence of a significant Jewish community would no doubt spur the creation of hospitals, schools, museums, theaters and music venues, as has been done in other parts of the world.

Once again, history repeats itself. Centuries ago, Jewish folklorists, feeling secure in Poland, played creatively if inaccurately on the etymology of the word “Poland.” They argued that it derived from the Hebrew word “polin,” meaning “here find a haven.” One Jewish folktale related that when Jews first came to Poland, they found a wood, the forest of Kawęczyn, in which on every tree one tractate of the Talmud was carved.

Maybe the time has come to dust off the bark of those trees.

Severyn Ashkenazy was born in Poland in 1936 and survived the Holocaust with his parents and brother. He founded and is past chairman of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. He founded Beit Warszawa Association, Heritage and Rebirth, Beit Polska and Beit Warszawa foundations as well as Friends of Jewish Renewal in Poland.

Survivor: Betty Hyatt

“Mommy, mommy.” Five-year-old Betty Hyatt, then Betty Prins, frightened by the unfamiliar low, rumbling noises in the sky, jumped out of bed and ran screaming for her mother. It was early morning on Friday, May 10, 1940, the day she and her father were planning to travel to Holland to visit relatives. Instead, Betty and her family sought shelter as planes flew low overhead in formation, dropping bombs on Antwerp. “I was terrified,” recalled Betty, who had never before seen an airplane.

Betty was born in Antwerp, Belgium, on Dec. 16, 1934, to Esther and Nathaniel Prins. Her brother, Fred, was born in November 1939. 

Betty’s father built and operated a factory for machine embroidery, employing 30 workers. It was located behind the family’s house in Borgerhout, an Antwerp suburb.

The business was successful, and Betty lived a privileged life with a nanny and vacations at beach resorts. She briefly attended private school before the war broke out.

After Belgium was attacked, Betty’s father contacted the Dutch consulate and arranged for passports to Surinam, a Dutch colony in South America. To get there, the family needed to pick up visas in Marseilles and then board a ship in Portugal. 

Betty’s parents closed the house, gave Betty’s dog to a neighbor and left in their “big, monstrous-looking Packard,” according to Betty. The road was crowded with other evacuees, many walking with bundles, pushcarts and donkeys. 

After crossing into northern France, they stopped at a Red Cross refugee camp. Betty’s father then returned to Antwerp for Betty’s mother’s parents, her mother’s sister and the sister’s fiancé. 

The first day out with all eight family members, the car was sideswiped and sent tumbling over an embankment, rolling over several times. No one was hurt, but a tire was destroyed. It took three days to locate a replacement. 

The family then drove to Reims, stopping for the night in a church converted to a refugee camp. Before daybreak, Betty’s father arose and insisted, against other family members’ wishes and for no apparent reason, they leave immediately. They were barely five minutes away when they heard a loud explosion. The church had been bombed and, they later learned, 500 were people killed.

The family eventually stopped in the village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Rue, where they lived in an abandoned hut. Betty attended school, learning French fluently. She befriended a golden retriever, naming her Mirette. The dog came to live with the family and subsequently gave birth to 12 puppies. Local farmers, needing guard dogs to fend off looters, bartered milk, eggs, butter and bread for them.

Seven months later, the family left, giving Mirette to a farmer. On the day they departed, Mirette howled inconsolably, and Betty cried until she fell asleep. “It was a terrible loss,” Betty said. 

After many months and many stops, the family arrived in Marseilles. But it was Vichy France, and as Jews and non-French, they were unable to travel any farther. Plus, having run out of money, Betty’s father was forced to sell the car. 

The Dutch consul suggested they go to Lamastre, a nearby village, where Betty’s father found a job as a janitor. Betty and her family lived in a second-floor flat with no water. 

As foreigners, Betty’s family was required to report to the police station weekly. One week, however, Betty’s grandfather inadvertently revealed to the police that the family was Jewish. 

A few nights later, a woman dressed in black knocked at Betty’s parents’ flat. “Do not be afraid,” she said. “I work with the maquis (the French resistance).” She told them that the Germans were planning to round up young people and deport them to Germany to work.

Betty’s aunt and fiancé decided to flee, heading to Portugal on foot. The resistance arranged false papers and employment for Betty’s father, relocating him near the Pyrenees. But he was betrayed for working as a Frenchman, arrested and later, on Jan. 31, 1943, transported to the Drancy transit camp outside Paris.

Less than a month later, Betty’s grandfather was picked up in Lamastre and also sent to Drancy. Betty discovered after the war that he died en route.

Soon after, learning that the Germans were rounding up women and children, resistance members took Betty and Fred by bicycle in the middle of the night to a farmer’s house, where they were united with their mother and grandmother. After a short stay, the family found an abandoned stable in the higher regions of Ardèche, in south-central France. 

There was no furniture, and they filled bags with hay to use as beds. Betty remembers lice and bed bugs as well as huge rats that ate the chestnuts they gathered. 

Betty’s mother joined the French resistance in the nearby town of Gilhoc-sur-Ormèze, taking Betty with her to meetings. Betty became a child courier, alerting local farmers to light bonfires designating safe landing places for Allied special forces being parachuted in. 

At those meetings, Eugénie Brunel, a midwife and resistance member, took a liking to Betty and offered to give her a home. Betty’s mother handed her over on the spot. “At that very moment the bond between my mother and me was broken,” recalled Betty, who was 8 at the time. 

Betty lived under the false name of Berta Lambert. She attended school whenever possible and worked for the resistance as needed. Occasionally she walked uphill to visit her family. “Eugénie was a magnificent woman,” according to Betty, who later nominated her for Yad Vashem’s “Righteous Among the Nations” designation, which was granted in 1981. 

The war ended in France in August 1944, and a few months later Betty returned with her mother, grandmother and brother to Lamastre. Betty’s mother subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown, and in 1945, Betty and Fred were sent to a displaced persons camp for children in central France. 

They were later put in another camp for children in northern Belgium, but then found themselves living with their mother and grandmother in a run-down apartment in Brussels. 

One day, Betty’s mother announced that she had remarried. “My father. My father,” Betty screamed. Her mother told her that he had died in a concentration camp, but Betty didn’t want to believe her. “It was unbearable,” Betty said. Years later, she learned that her father had been shot in Auschwitz by an SS soldier the day before the camp was liberated.

The family moved back to Antwerp, but Betty and Fred were again put in a displaced persons camp. Then Betty’s mother’s brother, who had gone to New York before the war, returned for the family. They arrived in the United States on Sept. 17, 1946.

Betty was enrolled in several schools in New York, but with no foundation and poor English skills, school was very difficult. Eventually she attended Forest Hills High School in Queens, where a teacher befriended her and introduced her to arts and literature. “When that happened, I had something to live for,” Betty said. 

Betty met her future husband, Fred Hyatt, in the standing-room section of the Metropolitan Opera, and they married in 1955. They moved to Los Angeles a year later and had two sons: William, born in 1957, and Kenneth in 1961.

In 1972, Betty began working for the State of California. She retired as a foster care licensing program analyst in 1996. 

Today, Betty, 78, works as a docent at the J. Paul Getty Museum and speaks at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. She also enjoys visiting with her sons, daughters-in-law and two grandsons.  

“Everything that happened in my life is sheer luck,” she said.

Israeli author booted from Marseilles panel

An Israeli author was kicked off a panel discussion in Marseilles at the request of the Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish.

Moshe Sakal, the author of “Yoland,” which was shortlisted for the 2011 Sapir Prize for literature, was removed Monday from a discussion of the Arab spring at a conference of Mediterranean writers, Haaretz reported.

French-Jewish author Pierre Assouline, the director of the conference, said Sakal’s participation in the panel “was not crucial.”

Darwish had apparently said that he would participate in the conference as long as he did not have to sit with any Israelis at roundtable discussions.

Describing the reaction to Sakal’s dismissial, Assouline said, “Half of the crowd got very angry, and the other half was thrilled.”

“I entered the hall just as [Moroccan poet] Tahar Ben Jelloun was speaking forcefully against this type of boycott,” Sakal said to Ha’aretz. “He said that there are many Israeli authors who are supportive [of the Palestinian cause] and one should speak to them even if one doesn’t approve of current Israeli politics.”

“There were hundreds of people there and there were a lot of hecklers,” Sakal said. “People were very upset.”