For Jews of Nice, terrorist attack came as no surprise


To the millions of tourists who visit Nice annually, the city in southeast France is an ultimate holiday destination that offers inviting beaches and luxury casinos, stunning architecture and world-class museums.

Sandwiched between the Maritime Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, Nice is France’s largest tourist destination after Paris, with 5 million arrivals each year and the country’s second largest domestic airport. Nice sees $1.6 billion in annual tourism revenue — 40 percent from its region known locally as Côte d’Azur and abroad as the French Riviera.

But Nice has a dark side, as demonstrated in the terrorist attack of July 14, when a Muslim extremist killed 84 people on the Promenade des Anglais by plowing his truck through the crowds gathered for a fireworks show on France’s national holiday, Bastille Day. After the attack, thousands of tourists checked out hurriedly from hotels that had not had occupancy issues in years.

The attack came as no surprise to many locals, including many of the city’s 20,000 Jews, who for years have been the targets of anti-Semitic attacks and harassment by members of a growing minority of fundamentalists from within the city’s large Muslim population.

“The only Jews you see walking around with a kippah are the foreign tourists,” said Chalom Yaich, a caretaker at the Michelet Jewish community center and synagogue. One of Nice’s dozen-odd shuls, Michelet is located next to a car repair shop at the northern downtown area about a mile and a half from the glitzier beachfront area.

“We locals have stopped wearing it years ago or covered it with a hat for safety,” said Yaich, 53.

He was considering immigrating to Israel before the attack, he said, and is even more inclined to do so now.

“Many have left already because Nice is especially affected by France’s problem with Islam,” Yaich said, noting that its young Jews are especially prone to leave, either for Paris or Israel.

“We have an aging local population with an average age of 50 or 60,” he said.

Nice has at least 60,000 Muslims, or 17 percent of the city’s population, according to estimates published in Le Monde, compared to a national average of about 8 percent of the population. Indeed, more than a third of those killed in the attack were Muslim, the head of a regional Islamic association told The New York Times. Other estimates say 30 to 40 percent of the city’s population is Muslim.

One Jew, Reymonde Mammane, was killed in the attack.

The attacker, who was shot dead by police while carrying out the rampage, was identified as a Tunisian immigrant, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel. Although Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31, was a petty criminal with no known links to terrorism and little apparent interest in religion, the Islamic State terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which French police believe involved several accomplices.

Local Muslim leaders denounced the attacks and organized a blood drive for survivors, saying the attacker was hardly representative of their community. Yet several other terrorist cells have emerged from the community in recent years.

In February, a Muslim man with suspected terrorist ties stabbed three soldiers outside a Jewish community center in Nice. Like other Jewish potential targets throughout France, the center has been under armed guard since January 2015, when four Jews were killed by an Islamist at a kosher supermarket near Paris. The following month, Nice police raided several homes of alleged Islamist terrorists who were “in advanced stages” of preparing an attack, prosecutors said at the time.

In recent years, Nice was among the five most troublesome areas listed in the annual report of the Paris-based SPCJ, a watchdog group on anti-Semitism, with an average tally of 15 to 20 violent incidents per year.

In relative terms, Jews in Nice are twice as likely to experience such an attack than their coreligionists in Marseille, a nearby city with 220,000 Muslims and 80,000 Jews that sees approximately 25 to 35 physical anti-Semitic attacks annually, according to SPCJ.

The difference is felt on the ground, according to Yves Kugelmann, the Swiss editor-in-chief of the Tachles Jewish weekly, who is among hundreds of non-French Jews with pieds-à-terre in and around Nice.

“There is more tension and apprehension in Nice than in Marseille, where even despite all the trouble we’ve seen in recent years, you still also have cafes with a mixed clientele of Jews of North African descent and Muslims from the same place,” said Kugelmann, who was in Nice when the attack happened.

“It didn’t fundamentally change things for the local Jewish population because, firstly, in France today terrorist attacks are no longer surprising,” he said, “and secondly because it wasn’t aimed at Jews.” Hours after the attack, Yossef Yitschok Pinson, the rabbi of Nice’s Chabad House, told JTA that synagogue services and community events would go on as planned in Nice.

Amid growing concern about Islamism, Nice has become a bastion for the French far right, where Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a niece of party leader Marine Le Pen, garnered a whopping 34 percent of the vote in the second round of voting in the 2015 regional elections, losing by fewer than 10 points to another right-wing candidate, former Mayor Christian Estrosi.

In Nice, the French Jews live among Arabs in and around the city center, between the Jean-Medecin neighborhood and Gambetta. And while this creates more familiarity than in other French cities with Muslim and Jewish enclaves, it also generates more friction than in Marseille, where Jews and Arabs interact but live mostly apart as a result of Jewish migration to the suburbs in recent decades.

Many Jews also live in the affluent towns around Nice and in pricey villas atop the lush cliffs overlooking the Nice Cape east of the city, not far from the borders of the Principality of Monaco, located approximately eight miles from the city. And while they will sometimes attend services at the Chabad synagogue or the Ashkenazi shul, “they are not exactly the synagogue crowd,” Kugelmann said.

Traditionally a cosmopolitan and tolerant port city near the Italian border, Nice has had a Jewish presence since at least the 12th century, according to Leon Alhadeff of Sefarad, a French organization promoting Sephardic culture.

“It drew them because it was a crossroads of cultures,” he wrote on the Sefard website.

Ironically, perhaps, it is now drawing Islamists for the same reasons, according to Philippe Granarolo, a writer and historian who wrote about the truck attack in the Le Figaro newspaper.

The city was targeted, he wrote, because Nice, “by far the best-known French destination in the world after Paris, for over a century has symbolized France’s touristic appeal; Mediterranean culture and openness to the other banks of” the Mediterranean Sea.

What can France learn from Israel?


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

As France mourned the 84 dead and more than 200 wounded in the attack in Nice, an alert security guard in Jerusalem foiled a potential attack on Jerusalem’s light rail train, when he spotted a suspicious man loitering near the train stop, and demanded he open his knapsack. When the man refused, the security guard arrested him, and found three pipe bombs inside.

It was yet another example of Israel’s success in stopping terrorist attacks, and minimizing casualties when they do occur.

Vehicular attacks, like the one perpetrated in Nice, have been a fixture in Jerusalem and the West Bank for years. In 2014 a Palestinian rammed his car into a light rail stop in Jerusalem, killing a three-month old baby and a young Ecuadoran woman. Just weeks ago, a similar attack in the West Bank wounded three soldiers.

“Israel has been proven as the model of imitation for other terrorists around the world,” Boaz Ganor, the Executive Director of the Institute for Counter-terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) of Herzylia, told the Media Line. “There is a difference between prevention of terrorist attacks and limiting the consequences.”

Preventing terror attacks depends on prior intelligence – a challenge when terrorists act alone.

“The problem with (this kind of ) intelligence is that the initiation, the planning and the execution start and end with the sick mind of one person,” Ganor said. “In these cases traditional intelligence is useless.”

However, he said, counter-terrorism in these cases must focus more on social media. Terrorists often post their intentions. Reports in the British press say that the attacker in Nice posted “I have the material” hours before the bombing. He also reportedly sent over $100,000 to his family in Tunisia just days before the attack.

Another difference between Israel and France is that Israelis are constantly aware of the possibility of terrorism. Anyone who has left a bag or a backpack unattended knows that often within seconds people will ask, “Who does this bag belong to?” Many Israeli civilians have also served in the army, meaning they have had military training, and many carry personal weapons for protection.

All of that together makes it likely that an attacker would not have been able to drive into people for more than a mile without being stopped.

Other Israeli analysts say that a similar attack could happen in Israel, although it is less likely than in France.

“The truck was very big and the protection and security in France was very poor,” Reuven Ehrlich, a terrorism expert at the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center told The Media Line. “The combination between a big truck, a terrorist who is ready to be killed in such an attack, and a lot of people without any protection caused a mass killing.”

When stopped, the attacker said he was carrying ice cream, but he was never asked to open the back of the truck. In addition, press reports say there were only 105 policemen responsible for the security of 30,000 people at the Bastille Day event.

France also has a large number of fighters who have returned from Syria, who have been radicalized to carry out attacks. Israeli terrorism experts say that France must move quickly to secure events with a much larger police presence. But it is the public that can offer the most security.

“The Israeli public is aware of its surroundings and of suspicious cars and behavior,” Boaz Ganor said. “A truck like this in a crowded place would raise people’s suspicions. A lot can be done to educate Europeans about preventing terrorism.”

The Institute he heads is currently holding a three-week intensive course in counter-terrorism for professionals from around the world.

Prepare for a life with terror


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

The musical sounds from the street saxophonist wafting above Jerusalem’s Jaffa Street this morning nearly drowned out the din of sirens and the noisy rush of curious onlookers while police and security personnel physically restrained a young Palestinian whom we later learned told police he was carrying pipe bombs and knives in his knapsack. It was a good day – another attack, a daily occurrence since last October and a potentially bloody one at that –had been prevented.

In a keen reminder of how life in the 21st century has some frightening aspects to it, I noted three brushes against terror in a period of four days.

It began during a brief trip to Nice with my husband where while sipping coffee on the morning of Bastille Day in a café 100 yards from our hotel, both along the beautiful Rue des Anglais, we pondered an extension to our trip in order to join the revelry. Commitments won out and mere hours before the celebrations were to begin we were airborne. It wasn’t before arriving home in Jerusalem that I learned of the horrific turn of events and the deadly dash through the human gauntlet by a maniac behind the wheel of a four-ton truck that left 84 dead and 200 wounded. Soon learning of the bodies lying in the street in front of our hotel, I was reminded that I had remarked at the strangely sparse police presence on a day that would see tens of thousands of celebrants in the streets.

Ironically, before learning of events in Nice, we had been reminded that while scenery and topography change from country-to-country, the terrorist threat is global as well as lethal. This, after our late night trek from the airport to the capital was interrupted by a miles-long traffic jam that turned out to be a car-by-car police search, vehicles’ insides illuminated by flashlights.

As if someone yelled, “Hold that thought!” I began the week Sunday morning as an eyewitness to the apprehending of the terrorist who sought to board the Jerusalem light rail before he was discovered to be carrying several pipe bombs and knives.

 The world is only beginning to learn the realities of living with terror that are well-ingrained in the experience of Israelis of all ages. How governments and the public sector see terror, how the public sees the environment around them, and how they deal with terror on a daily basis is the difference the people of Nice and Orlando need to come to terms with.

 Maj. Gil Kleinman, former spokesman for the Israeli police who witnessed firsthand hundreds of terrorist related incidents, insists that many countries – and, in particular, European nations — are in denial about calling terror, “terror.” He suggests that there is a widely-held belief that the Nice attack, for instance, is a one-off event and a byproduct of what's going on in the Middle East; and a byproduct of government policies. Kleinman believes the Europeans fail to understand that it’s a terror war directed against Western culture and country. In an analogy to terror and crime, he says that, “once a criminal is caught, it doesn't mean crime has stopped.”

In Kleinman’s estimation, the difficulty lies in finding the right balance between continuing to live life and fighting terror. “If you go too much to the extreme, to dictatorship, you've ruined your society. If you don't do anything, then the terrorists rule the streets. Either way, the people are left in fear which infects society.”

As other counterterrorism experts have cautioned, the fight against terror requires a citizen army. He explained to The Media Line that, “It's not just about what the police or the FBI are doing, but what we are doing. It is not about what your generals feel but the single mother with three children. “Governments are new to terror and think all about tactics — how many bomb robots they have; how many helmets and flak jackets. You need to enlist the public.”  

How? “You have to stop being politically correct,” he says, offering as an example thinking an attack is over because “a couple of arrests have been made in Belgium.”

An activist public drawn into the ranks of the counterterrorism force wants to know how to protect themselves. Morty Dzikansky, a retired detective with the New York Police Department who served as the NYPD’s intelligence liaison to Israel during the violent period known as the Second Intifada, witnessing scores of terrorist attacks, stresses the need for preparedness in large crowds.

According to Dzikansky, who, like Kleinman, teaches terror response training, the first order of business is to know what to look for in terms of recognizing suspicious individuals. Next, he told The Media Line, “Know your alternative escape routes and always have working communications capability.” And don’t be shy in reporting your concerns to the authorities.

Maj. Kleinman believes that the United States, unlike its European counterparts, understands a war is raging. If, for example, a citizen reports a suspicious incident to authorities in Europe, he believes the report will not be taken seriously. Not so in America. But he also points to the difference between ISIS-style terror warfare and urban warfare.

Since the attacks began in France, many pundits have opined that it is just the beginning. Kleinman believes 911 was the pivotal moment when America realized it’s under attack. Similarly, the horrific incident in Nice should signal the Europeans that more will follow.

“Once they (the government) understand they are at war, and that it’s not going away and once they understand they have to enlist their public and once they understand what the public is thinking, and not just the police, then they'll be able to solve the problem.”

While we all need to learn live with terror, the sounds of freedom ring louder than terror itself.

Felice Friedson is President/CEO of The Media Line, an American news organization covering the Middle East in context, and founder of the Press and Policy Student Program. She can be reached at felice@themedialine.org.

French Jewish woman dies of injuries sustained in Nice terror attack


An elderly Jewish woman who was badly injured in the terror attack in Nice, France, has died of her injuries.

Raymonde Mamane, 77, died Sunday at a local hospital, the French Jewish newspaper Actualite Juive reported Monday.

Her sister, Clara Bensimon, 80, remains unconscious in the same hospital, where both of her legs reportedly were amputated. Bensimon was only identified late Friday after being reported missing following the attack.

Mamane is reported to be the first Jewish fatality in the attack.

The women were on the Promenade des Anglais watching the July 14 fireworks in honor of Bastille Day when they were mowed down by a truck driven by French-Tunisian citizen, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, killing at least 85 and injuring more than 300. The Islamic State terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack and said Bouhlel was its operative. Bouhlel, who was shot dead by police, had a criminal record involving violence but not terrorism.

At least five local Jews were injured in the attack, according to the local Chabad-Lubavitch emissary, Yossef Yitzschok Pinson.

Nice’s Jews to gather on Shabbat despite terrorist attack


Nice’s Jewish community will hold Shabbat activities in a spirit of solidarity and defiance after a terrorist killed scores of people in the city in southern France.

A 30-year-old man drove a rented white truck through a crowded promenade in the coastal resort city on Thursday night shortly after the annual firework show on Bastille Day, BFMTV reported. He may have had accomplices who participated in the attack itself, the channel reported. As many as 80 people were killed.

“We will not let this affect us, we will not let fear affect or damage the life of our community, just as France will not let fear of terrorism change it,” Yossef Yitschok Pinson, the rabbi of Nice’s Chabad House, told JTA Friday. Synagogue services and community events will go on as planned, he said.

In addition to the fatalities, the attack resulted in severe injuries to at least 18 people and a few other people were lightly wounded. The identities of the victims have not yet been made known. At least five of the wounded are Jews, according to Pinson. French media reported that the death toll was higher than 50 and possibly as high as 80 people.

“The truck left a trail of blood as it tore through the crowd,” said Pinson, citing eye-witness testimonies. One witness to the attack was “deeply traumatized by what she saw,” he said. “Body parts, people screaming, blood everywhere and very, very difficult sights.”

Unlike Paris, Nice had never seen a terrorist attack of the scale witnessed Thursday. “Although it is part of the reality of life in France that something like this can happen, it is shocking to see it in Nice,” Pinson added.

The driver, who has a criminal record involving violence but not terrorism, barrelled through the crowd that had gathered on the Promenade des Anglais to watch fireworks on France’s national day, according to the BFMTV television channel.

President Francoise Hollande said that an “attack with terrorist characteristics cannot be denied.” He added that France’s state of emergency, declared in November following a lethal series of terrorist attacks in Paris, may be extended and that some army reservists may be drafted. The driver, who fired a gun into the crowd, was killed by return fire. His name was not immediately released.

Nice, which is located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is an international tourist destination that also draws hundreds of thousands of local French tourists in summer, as well as many European Jews who come to Nice because it has a permanent Jewish population of 25,000 with kosher shops and synagogues, in addition to the Chabad House.

But the summer crowd has not yet arrived, Pinson, the rabbi, told JTA. “They usually come in August, then there are far more Jews in town,” he said.

Following the attack, Jewish groups joined other faith groups, heads of state and international organizations in condemning the attack.

President Barack Obama said in a statement:  “We stand in solidarity and partnership with France, our oldest ally, as they respond to and recover from this attack. We know that the character of the French Republic will endure long after this devastating and tragic loss of life.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu siad in a statement Friday that his country “condemns in the strongest terms last night’s horrific attack in Nice.”

Israelis, he added, “stand united with the people of France today” and “Israel is ready to help the French government fight this evil until it is defeated.”

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor spoke of his outrage, as well as “pain and sadness,” following the attack.

Hollande: After deadly Nice attack, all of France living under the threat of Islamist terrorism


Speaking after a mass killing on Bastille Day in the coastal city of Nice, French President François Hollande said all of France is living under the threat of Islamic terrorism.

“After Paris in January 2015 and then St. Denis in November last year, and now Nice, in its turn, is touched, it is all of France that is under the threat of Islamist terrorists,” Hollande said in a pre-dawn broadcast Friday which the Elysee, the presidential palace, posted on social media.

He referred to deadly mass attacks in January on a satirical weekly and a kosher supermarket in Paris and in November on a concert hall in Paris, carried out by terrorists affiliated with Islamist terrorist groups.

A truck barreled into a crowd Thursday night during celebrations marking Bastille Day, the French independence day, killing 77 people. Reports said there might have been more than one attacker, and that the truck’s cab was filled with guns, explosives and grenades, according to local authorities.

The driver, who fired a gun into the crowd, was killed by return fire. An identity card in the truck cab bore name of a French Tunisian.

There was no claim of responsibility and security authorities were not yet describing the attack as terrorist, but Hollande made clear he believed that it was.

“The attack’s terrorist character cannot be denied,” he said. “It is clear we must do everything in order to combat against the scourge of terrorism.”

Hollande, who earlier Thursday had said a state of emergency in place since the earlier terrorist attacks would be lifted on July 26, said in his address after the attack that it would be extended three months.

Chabad Lubavitch News quoted the movement’s emissary in the city, Yossef Yitzschok Pinson, as saying that five local Jews were injured in the attack, one seriously. He did not know of any killed.

Flemish Jews: Better coverage of Israel would have prepared Europe for truck attack in Nice


A group representing Flemish Jews said that the vehicular attack in France was shocking to Westerners because their media has willfully ignored a spate of car ramming attacks in Israel.

The Flemish Region’s Forum of Jewish Organizations issued its unusual statement Friday about the July 14 assault in the southern French city. As many as 80 people were killed when a driver plowed his truck through a crowded promenade during the national Bastille Day holiday, in an apparent terrorist attack.

Many European Jewish groups are critical of their media’s coverage of Israel but mainstream organizations like the Forum rarely reference this in commenting about terrorist attacks in Europe.

“It is inaccurate to say, as we have heard said many times after the Nice attack, that car ramming is a new phenomenon,” the Forum wrote. “By ignoring this method of terrorism in Israel – some believe because of political correctness – one is, regrettably, confronted in a horrific manner with reality.”

The statement featured a caricature of a man holding a sword that is sticking into his torso, which is shaped like the map of France, while kneeling with the Eiffel Tower in the background. The sword is labelled “political correctness.”

As the representative body of the Jewish communities of the Flemish Region – one of three autonomous states that make up the  federal kingdom of Belgium – the Forum speaks for half of the country’s Jewish population.

The organization representing Belgium’s French-speaking Jews, CCOJB, made no reference to Israel in its statement about the Nice attack, following which CCOJB expressed its solidarity with France and its condolences to the victims’ families.

CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, made passing reference to Israel in its condemnation of the attack. “The terrorists have the same objectives in Paris, Nice, Brussels, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and around the world,” CRIF wrote. The Board of Deputies of British Jews wrote in its statement: “We know only too well of this kind of attack because of its repeated use in Israel.”

In Spain, the ACOM lobby group for Israel noted in its statement that “the model used in France is a lethal technique constantly used by Palestinian terrorists against the Israeli people.” But FCJE, Spanish Jewry’s representative umbrella group, made no mention of Israel in its statement, which spoke of “Islamic terrorism that once again attacks” the Western way of life.

Since January 2015, the Israel Security Agency recorded at least 34 car ramming attacks by Palestinian terrorists in Israel led to the death of three victims and injured at least 77 people.

Ramming attacks in 2015 were responsible for the second highest number of injured, after 114 people who were stabbed and 39 victims wounded in shooting attacks. It was the third deadliest method employed by terrorists, after shooting and stabbing, according to the agency.

Aliza Bin Noun, Israel’s ambassador to France, did not draw parallels between the attack in Nice and attacks in her native country in a statement she posted on Twitter. “Horrified by the Nice attack. Israel stands with the French People and their pain and is ready to help France combat terrorism,” she wrote.

Sinai Temple vigil unites police, clergy for “healing in tragic times” [VIDEO]


A week after the murder of five police officers in Dallas and just hours after more than 80 people were killed and 200 wounded from a terrorist attack in Nice, France, Los Angeles rabbis, African-American Christian faith leaders and Los Angeles Police Department officers came together at Sinai Temple on July 14 for a community prayer vigil.

Led by Rabbi David Wolpe, Craig Taubman and Pastor Mark Whitlock, senior minister of Christ Our Redeemer AME church, the evening event had been billed as “a service of devotion and healing in tragic times,” following not only the murder of the Dallas police officers, but also the allegedly racially tinged deaths of two Black men killed by police —Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old killed on July 5 outside a convenience story in Baton Rouge, La. as well as Philando Castile, a 32-year-old killed during a traffic stop Minnesota on July 6. 

The message of the evening: Everybody of all faiths, ethnicities and backgrounds needs to come together as one.

 Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple was among the leaders of a community prayer vigil at the synagogue.

“Everybody you look at is a stranger, a brother and yourself—that’s what we have to learn in order to love,” Wolpe said from the bimah in Sinai’s sanctuary, addressing an audience of more than 300 that included elected officials, Jewish community leaders and others, including Jay Sanderson, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Mahomed Khan, director of interfaith outreach at King Fahad Mosque in Culver City; Rev. Damali Najuma Smith-Pollard, program manager of the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement, Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz of Adat Shalom and Sinai Temple Rabbi Nicole Guzik.

Over the course of the evening, Taubman and a handful of musicians performed songs in Hebrew, gospel tunes and inspirational pop ballads. Capping the evening off, the crowd sang “We Shall Overcome,” with audience members’ putting their arms around one another and swaying to the music from the pews of the large room. 

Despite the sense of camaraderie permeating the space, tragedy of the terrorist attack in Nice, France was on everyone’s minds. Wolpe address the incident toward the conclusion of the evening, describing events there as “horrific” and saying, “hearts go out to the wounded, their family and friends and to the entire nation [of France].”

Nearly 25 organizations, the majority of them Jewish, served as co-sponsors of the event. 

“Alone we are strong, [but] tonight is a reminder that together we are stronger,” Taubman told the Journal.

Craig Taubman and Jay Sanderson attended the vigil at Sinai Temple.

“I’m proud that within less than a week we were able to get close to 400 people together in prayer and unity,” Guzik said in an interview. She said a Sinai Temple lay leader had approached the synagogue’s clergy about the need to do something involving both law enforcement and race relations in the wake of numerous tragedies in the country. 

“Our community feels helpless… [after the] Dallas shooting. We said, ‘Forget it, we can’t just sit here because now riots are happening in every city. We have to stand up and do something,’” Guzik said.

Paul Cunningham blew the shofar at the start of the event. Later, Beit T’Shuvah Head Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Temple Emanuel Rabbi Jonathan Aaron and others stood at the top of the bimah’s stairs under a chuppah held up by young students of Sinai Akiba Academy, as well as children from local churches, with Borovitz, Aaron and other local leaders saying words of prayer and hope. The shofar blower, Cunningham, returned to the bimah at the end of the night and once again blew the ram’s horn, this time to close the event. 

Exiting the sanctuary, Julie Platt, chairman of the L.A. Federation, said she was happy she had attended.  “This was a wonderful convening—we all needed it,” she said. “Especially after the news of today.”

As terror unfolded in Nice, local rabbis jumped to action


Rabbi Reouven Ouanounou was still in his office at the Chabad Lubavitch of Nice Côte d’Azur at 11 p.m. on July 14 when he saw people running frantically in the streets.

The Chabad house is a five-minute walk from where hundreds had been celebrating Bastille Day with a fireworks display when a terrorist drove a truck into the crowd and began firing a gun, killing more than 80 people and injuring more than 200. When Ouanounou stepped outside to see what was going on, he was told to get back inside and lock the doors, he said. So he did.

Reached by phone shortly before setting out for Friday evening prayers on July 15, Ouanounou sounded tired as he discussed the tragedy that left at least three members of the Jewish community wounded and another two missing at the time of the interview.

Once it seemed safe to leave the house at around 1:30 a.m., Ouanounou made his way to a restaurant to pick up four counselors of Chabad’s Gan Israel day camp who had taken shelter there.

“They were really in trauma,” he said.

The four counselors had missed being hit by the oncoming truck by a few feet, running to escape it, according to a report from Rabbi Yossef Yitschok Pinson, the Chabad director under whom Ouanounou works.

The morning after the attack, Ouanounou made the rounds of area hospitals to seek information about the wounded and to bring food to their families for Shabbat.

He said he visited two wounded elderly Jewish women who attended the Bastille Day festivities. Neither was conscious when he showed up; both had been hooked up to artificial respirators. The sister of one of the women was still missing, he said.

Shortly after Ouanounou hung up to head to Shabbat services, a statement from the Nice Chabad on Chabad.org listed the Hebrew names of the victims: Raymonde bat Nouna, missing; Clara bat Nouna, hospitalized; Hafsia bat Miryam, hospitalized.

Meanwhile, Times of Israel reported that sisters Clara Bensimon, 80, and Raymonde Mamane, 77, had not contacted their families since the attack.

Ouanounou said he was reminded of the passage in the Leviticus where the priest Aaron learns his two sons have died suddenly.

“Vayidom Aaron,” the passage reads. “And Aaron fell silent.”

“There are no words,” Ouanounou said. “You can’t explain, just be there when they need, bring them food, drinks. You talk. That’s the only thing you have. It’s not a moment to find counsel… It’s not proper to encourage them to move forward. It’s not the moment. We don’t know what’s going to happen. So we’re hanging around with them and ‘if you need anything call me.’”

Ouanounou’s brother-in-law, Rabbi Yisrael Pinson, the co-director of Chabad of Greater Downtown Detroit, whose father is the Nice Chabad director, learned of the attack via a WhatsApp chat group with his family even before news had spread in the media.

“Before there was any news on any of the media, even in France, my sister was posting ‘I hear gunshots in the streets what’s going,’” he said in a July 15 interview.

Pinson’s parents were sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Shneerson to establish a Chabad presence in the French Riviera, where about 30,000 Jews live.

The Jewish community there is predominantly traditional Sephardic Jews who came to France in the 1960s from North Africa, he said. Chabad thus plays an important role in their lives.

Pinson said he followed the news of the July 14 attack closely through family members posting information of their whereabouts.

“It wasn’t clear that the terrorist had been eliminated, or there might be another threat,” he said. “The desire was there right away: How can we be there to help?”

Pinson said a number of his family members who hold various rabbinical positions in Nice rushed to the triage center as soon as it was legally allowable.

“The first reaction we have in the Jewish community is: ‘Were there any Jews that were harmed?’” he said.

But even after it was clear that no Jews were among the injured and grief-stricken at that time in the triage area, “they remained there for the whole night basically.”

“They couldn’t leave,” he said. “Because beyond our responsibility to the Jewish community, we’re responsible to all the people in the community, regardless of their religion and their background. So you had these rabbis spending the night with total strangers… literally staying with them, holding their hands, letting them talk, giving them the moral and spiritual support to go through this terrible time.”

Chabad has put up a webpage asking for donations to provide for the needs of families impacted by the terror attack.

The statement from the Nice Chabad concluded: “Men should put on tefillin. Women and girls should light Shabbat candles. Everyone should add in giving tzedakah. … Shabbat Shalom to all.”

Truck attack kills 80 in Nice on Bastille Day


A gunman killed 80 people and wounded scores when he drove a heavy truck at high speed into a crowd that had watched Bastille Day fireworks in the French Riviera city of Nice late on Thursday, officials said.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 80 people died and 18 were in a critical condition. Many more were also wounded in the attack along the famed seafront Promenade des Anglais as the fireworks ended just after 10:30 p.m. (2030 GMT).

The driver also opened fire before police shot him dead.

In a pre-dawn address to the nation, President Francois Hollande said he was calling up military and police reservists to relieve forces worn out by an eight-month state of emergency begun after the Islamic State militant group killed 130 people in Paris. The state of emergency was extended by three months.

“France is filled with sadness by this new tragedy,” Hollande said, noting several children were among the dead in what he said he had no doubt was an act of terrorism.

He called the carnage, which came as France celebrated the anniversary of the 1789 revolutionary storming of the Bastille, an attack on liberty by fanatics who despised human rights.

France would, nonetheless, continue military operations in Syria and Iraq.

Counter-terrorist investigators were seeking to identify the driver. A local government official said weapons and grenades were found inside the 25-tonne, unmarked articulated truck.

Officials said hundreds were hurt as the driver wove along the seafront, knocking them down “like skittles”.

The attack, which came eight months and a day after Islamic State gunmen and suicide bombers struck the French capital on a festive Friday evening, seemed so far to be the work of a lone assailant. Newspaper Nice-Matin quoted unidentified sources as saying the driver was a 31-year-old local of Tunisian origin.

Police were working to establish what accomplices he may have had in a city with a reputation for Islamist activism.

There had been no claim of responsibility made almost six hours after the attack.

“A SCENE OF HORROR”

The truck careered for hundreds of metres along the front facing the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels), slamming into families and friends listening to an orchestra or strolling above the beach towards the grand, century-old Hotel Negresco.

“It's a scene of horror,” member of parliament Eric Ciotti told France Info radio, saying the truck “mowed down several hundred people.” Jacques, who runs Le Queenie restaurant on the seafront, told the station: “People went down like ninepins.”

Bystander Franck Sidoli, who was visibly shocked, said: “I saw people go down.”

“Then the truck stopped, we were just five metres away. A woman was there, she lost her son. Her son was on the ground, bleeding,” he told Reuters at the scene.

Nice-Matin posted photographs of the truck, its windshield starred by a score of bullets and its radiator grille destroyed.

Major events in France have been guarded by troops and armed police since the Islamic State attacks last year, but it appeared to have taken many minutes to halt the progress of the truck as it tore along pavements and a pedestrian zone.

Police told residents of the city, 30 km (20 miles) from the Italian border, to stay indoors as they conducted further operations, although there was no sign of any other attack.

Hours earlier, Hollande had said the state of emergency would end in two weeks. He has now extended it by three months, calling up former troops and gendarmes after racing back to Paris from the south of France in the wake of the attack.

Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13, the bloodiest in a number of attacks in France and Belgium in the past two years. On Sunday, a weary nation had breathed a collective sigh of relief as the month-long Euro 2016 soccer tournament across France ended without a feared attack.

Four months ago, Belgian Islamists linked to the Paris attackers killed 32 people in Brussels.

Vehicle attacks have been used by isolated members of militant groups in recent years, notably in Israel, as well as in Europe, though never to such devastating effect.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement: “On behalf of the American people, I condemn in the strongest terms what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack in Nice, France, which killed and wounded dozens of innocent civilians.”

The United Nations Security Council said it “condemned in the strongest terms the barbaric and cowardly terrorist attack”.

On social media, Islamic State supporters celebrated the high death toll.

HIDING IN TERROR

One woman told France Info that she and others had fled in terror: “The lorry came zig-zagging along the street. We ran into a hotel and hid in the toilets with lots of people.”

Nice-Matin journalist Damien Allemand had been watching the traditional seaside firework display when the truck tore by just as it ended. After taking cover in a cafe, he wrote on his paper's website of what he saw when he came back out on the promenade: “Bodies every five metres, limbs … Blood. Groans.”

“The beach attendants were first on the scene. They brought water for the injured and towels, which they placed on those for whom there was no more hope.”

Officials have warned in the past of the risk of Islamist attacks in the region following the Paris and Brussels attacks. Reverses for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq have raised fears it might strike again in Europe, possibly again using alienated young men from the continent's Arab immigrant communities whom it has inspired to take up arms against their native countries.

Nice, a city of some 350,000, has a history as a flamboyant, aristocratic resort but is also a gritty metropolis. It has seen dozens of its Muslim residents travel to Syria to fight, a path taken by previous Islamic State attackers in Europe.

“Neither the place nor the date are coincidental,” a former French intelligence agent and security consultant, Claude Moniquet, told France-Info, noting the jihadist presence in Nice and the fact that July 14 marks France's revolution.

“Tragic paradox that the subject of Nice attack was the people celebrating liberty, equality and fraternity,” European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter.

At Nice's Pasteur hospital, medical staff were treating large numbers of injuries. Waiting for friends who were being operated on, 20-year-old Fanny told Reuters she had been lucky.

“We were all very happy, ready to celebrate all night long,” she said. “I saw a truck driving into the pedestrian area, going very fast and zig-zagging.

“The truck pushed me to the side. When I opened my eyes I saw faces I didn't know and started asking for help … Some of my friends were not so lucky. They are having operations as we speak. It's very hard, it's all very traumatic.”

Breaking Bodies


Leave my body alone.

This is my thought when I see terror.

I don’t care if it’s a truck, a gun, a knife, a bomb.

Just leave my body alone.

Do not slice my flesh.

Do not splinter my bones or explode my arteries.

Do not rape my muscles and ligaments.

We talk about ISIS and Islam and hatred.

But hatred doesn’t bother me.

What bothers me is a bullet that pierces my pancreas.

Or a car that severs my spine.

Madness doesn’t bother me.

A sharp knife launched into my belly bothers me.

Or a rock that cracks my skull.

I don’t care about pundits or faith or interfaith.

About stereotypes or damage control.

I care about a bomb blowing next to my brain.

Or a white truck crunching 84 bodies.

Terrorists are not cowards,

They are artists of death.

Do not call them animals.

Animals kill to eat,

Terrorists kill to break bodies.

Animals do not want to die.

Terrorists?

What shall we do with them?

We can leave their faith and minds alone,

But we cannot leave their bodies alone.

We must break their bodies,

Even if they want us to.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Soldiers protecting French Jewish center stabbed


Three French soldiers protecting a Jewish community center in the southern French city of Nice were attacked by a knife-wielding man.

One soldier was stabbed in his arm and another was cut on his face in the Tuesday afternoon attack, the French news agency AFP reported. The soldiers were on anti-terror patrol outside the JCC, which is located in the center of the city.

Police detained the attacker, but two alleged accomplices fled after the stabbing, according to France 24.

Jewish institutions, mosques and heavily trafficked areas throughout France have been under military protection by more than 10,000 soldiers since last month’s attacks by Islamic extremists, including on a kosher supermarket in Paris, left 17 dead.

Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi said the attacker carried an identity card identifying him as Moussa Coulibaly, the same last name as the kosher supermarket attacker, though it is not known if they are related.

Tales from the crib: Jolie’s Jewish ob-gyn speaks


NICE, France (JTA)—Angelina Jolie brought her twins into the world on Shabbat.

That fact may have been overlooked last Saturday by the thousands of media outlets covering the birth, which took place at Lenval Hospital’s Santa Maria Clinic.

But the timing did not escape Dr. Michel Sussmann, Jolie’s Jewish obstetrician.

Sussmann, a former vice president of Nice’s Jewish community whose daughter lives in Israel, basked in the media spotlight after he delivered the world’s two most widely anticipated newborns, Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline, the children of actors Jolie and Brad Pitt.

“The delivery was very emotional and exceptional as Ms. Jolie is a superstar, but I think that it happened on Shabbat made it that much more moving,” Sussmann said during an exclusive interview with JTA at his office in one of this city’s most elegant Art Nouveau districts.

“It was not an easy operation—a second cesarean with twins is difficult—but it went perfectly and they are so cute.”

Sussman said the twins, each approximately 5 pounds at birth, are in ideal health.

The paparazzi and untold millions of people around the world still await a glimpse of the cuteness that Sussmann and only a handful of others have seen.

With the first exclusive photographs of the twins reportedly worth as much as $16 million – People and OK! magazine are rumored to be the top bidders—the babies are being as closely guarded as the identity of the Mossad’s top secret agent. Jolie and Pitt have said they will donate the photos’ proceeds to charity.

Sussmann, 56, became the obstetrician for Jolie several months ago, a secret he kept until Jolie entered the Nice clinic June 30.

Though the movie star’s twin births were exciting, Sussmann said it wasn’t the most momentous moment of his life.

That came a few years ago when Sussmann took a call from Israeli-American violinist virtuoso Itzhak Perlman about Sussmann’s son Arnaud, 23, a violinist who recently graduated from the Juilliard School in New York.

Perlman told Sussmann, “I want your son to come study with me.”

Sussmann’s daughter Laura, 27, also lives far from the doctor and his wife, Juliette, a Moroccan Jew who also is a physician.

Laura made aliyah after enduring daily anti-Semitic diatribes during the height of the second intifada, when she was attending school in Paris, Sussmann said. She now lives in Tel Aviv and works in high-tech. His daughter Clara is a student at Columbia University.

Sussmann, who lives in Nice, says he has encountered no anti-Semitism in the Nice area, which is home to some 30,000 Jews.

“Far from it—most patients ask for Jewish doctors,” he said half-jokingly.

Sussmann told JTA that Jolie chose him because she had a friend who had been his patient. The Jolie-Pitt clan, including four other children aged 4 to 6, is living in a 35-room chateau in Provence.

This was Jolie’s second cesarean and she was carrying twins, so Sussmann—a very careful man, according to colleagues—requested that she come to the hospital and go on bed rest.

The energetic “Tomb Raider” actress and humanitarian had admitted openly that she found it difficult to resist horsing around with her brood even in the late stages of pregnancy.

Once his identity was known, Sussmann became the target of a Hollywood press inquisition: Why was Jolie in the hospital more than a month before her assumed due date? What does she eat? Do she and Brad really have fun together? And most importantly, when will she give birth?

Sussmann never broke patient-doctor confidentiality, taking the pressure in stride.

The Jolie-Pitt security team, which cost the power couple millions of dollars per month, also didn’t faze him. Sussman recalled Russian patients with a bodyguard retinue of as many as 19; a mere two guards kept intruders from bothering Jolie.

“Jolie and Pitt were always laughing and having a good time together, even during the birth operation,” he said.

Before the delivery Alain Treisser, the head of the maternity unit at the prestigious Prince Grace Hospital, told Touch Weekly magazine, “I think Sussmann will be great for the job because he is tough and has strong nerves.”

Like several doctors in the south of France, all of whom seem to know each other, Treisser is Jewish. So are several colleagues at the Santa Maria Clinic.

Though they are not regular synagogue goers, Sussmann said he and and his wife study Jewish thought once a month with an Orthodox rabbi. They’re also committed to supporting Israel.

Some other interesting Jolie Jewish connections: Michael Latz, the mayor of Correns, the town of 800 where Jolie and Pitt reside, is Jewish—possibly the only Jewish mayor in all of Provence. Latz is also expected be Pitt’s business partner, since his estate and the Pitt-Jolie vineyard, Miraval, cooperate in the production of organic wine.

Jolie’s father, the actor Jon Voight, is a major supporter of Chabad. On a visit to Israel two months ago, Voight met with terrorism victims in Sderot and expressed his opposition to negotiations with the Palestinians.

Sussmann said he never discussed his religion—or any other personal matters – with Jolie.

“I am her doctor; I don’t want to be her friend,” he said. “We had an excellent rapport. She is so, so nice and never complained about anything. There are negative things sometimes written about her on the Internet, but don’t believe them.”

Some of Sussmann’s colleagues, rather than expressing enthusiasm for Jolie’s choice of doctor, privately questioned the pick. In off-the-record interviews with JTA, several expressed disappointment that they had not been chosen.

Sussmann says he isn’t surprised.

“There is the French problem of envy,” he said, “and it may be one reason why my three children live abroad.”

Envy notwithstanding, Sussmann says he is delighted to have played a role in what many are calling the celebrity birth of the decade.