Paris has been home to Jewish communities since the Middle Ages. The story of Jews in Paris swings from building a thriving community to expulsion and back again to joyful living and crushing persecution. It is a complicated and living history.
For the visitor to Paris, weaving together the story of Jews in Paris through their faith, culture, and the enormous setbacks endured can be better understood by visiting these seven places.
My visit to The Museum of Art and History of Judaism and the tour were hosted, but all opinions expressed are my own.
1. Finding Jewish Paris: The Pletzl Or Little Place
There has been a Jewish community in the Marais since the 13th century. Despite expulsions, Jews have continually been drawn to Paris and settling in the Marais where they could find neighbors who practiced the same religion.
The center of the Jewish community was along Rue des Rosiers, Rue des Ecouffes, and Rue Ferdinand-Duval (which was called Jewish Street until 1900). Here they made their Pletzl which in Yiddish means “little place.” The neighborhood is still a vibrant area where Jewish synagogues, bakeries, delis, restaurants, and bookstores line the narrow cobbled streets.
World War II was devastating for the Jewish community in Paris. More than half of the Jewish residents of the Marais were exterminated in the Holocaust. Keep your eyes open for poignant plaques on buildings in the Marais, and the rest of Paris, honoring victims of the Holocaust, many of them children.
Don’t be surprised to see Israeli street food in the Pletzl with long lineups for delectable pita sandwiches filled with falafels.
Although Jews live in many districts in Paris, Rue des Rosiers and the Pletzl continue to represent the heart of Paris’s Jewish community.
- Métro: Saint-Paul
2. Jardin Des Rosiers Joseph Migneret
It’s easy to walk right by the entrance of this tranquil garden, the Garden of Roses Joseph-Mignaret. Look for the green gate because it is completely worth stopping by. Joseph Mignaret was a teacher and principal of the nearby Jewish school. After 165 of his students were deported, he went into full resistance mode, harboring students in his home and providing papers to families so that they could escape. Stop for a minute at the memorial to children, younger than five years old, who never returned home.
Pro Tip: The garden is quiet with many benches. Grab a falafel along Rue des Rosiers and enjoy it in the park.
- Address: 10 Rue des Rosiers, 75004
- Métro: Saint-Paul
3. The Museum Of Art And History Of Judaism
The Museum of Art and History Of Judaism (Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme, commonly referred to as mahJ) is situated in a stunning 17th-century mansion called the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan in the Marais district.
The Museum Of Art and History Of Judaism’s permanent collection displays Jewish religious and cultural objects inviting the viewer into the rich world of Jewish history from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The wide-ranging artifacts come from France, Europe, and Northern Africa.
Ancient handwritten Torah scrolls, a stunning three-dimensional paper maché golden “Relief of Jerusalem” made in Odessa in 1892, elegant Hanukkah lamps, a prayer book from 1512, intricate jewelry, and tombstones found in Paris dating from 1281 are just a few of the intriguing artifacts found at The Museum of Art and History Of Judaism.
The mahJ also has temporary exhibitions, a 200-seat auditorium, hosts concerts, film screenings, and provides tours. On every other Sunday from May to August, the mahJ offers tours in English of the Jewish Marais in Paris. I recently took a tour and walked away enlightened by historical facts, plaques, and sites in the Marais all telling the story of Jews in Paris. Highly recommended.
Watch here for upcoming tour dates.
- Address: 71 Rue du Temple, 75003, Paris
- Hours: Open Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Open weekends 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Closed Mondays
- Admission: $10 including temporary exhibition, $14 the price of the tour, including admission to the museum. The museum has free entrance to the permanent collection on the first Saturday of every month from October to June.
- Métro: Rambuteau
Pro Tip: The beautiful courtyard and main floor of the museum are free of charge. Sit a while in the lovely courtyard, explore the bookshop, and don’t miss the art installation honoring the community of people that lived in apartments in the mansion before WWII. A mix of ethnic backgrounds and religions, they lived harmoniously side by side. Some disappeared in the infamous roundups of 1942. The installation was created by Christian Boltanksi.
4. Finding Jewish Paris: Synagogues
The Grand Synagogue Of Paris Or The Grande Synagogue De La Victoire
This is the seat of the Grand Rabbi of Paris, the largest synagogue in Paris and the second largest in Europe. Built between 1867 and 1874, the Grand Synagogue of Paris features a rose window and large arches.
The original synagogue in this exact location was burned down by the Paris Commune in 1871. The Tournelles synagogue you see today was built around the same time and in the same Roman-Byzantine style as the synagogue on Rue de la Victoire. The façade features a lovely rose window and displays both the Tablets of the Law and the Paris city coat of arms. Deemed a historical monument, the inside of the Tournelles Synagogue is a unique gem. The green metallic framework and arches, reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower, were constructed in the workshop of Gustave Eiffel.
Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue, The Guimard Synagogue, Or The Pavée Synagogue
The Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue, an orthodox synagogue, was designed by the master of Art Nouveau architecture, Hector Guimard in 1913. The narrow façade with its undulating design portrays the Star of David over the main entrance and as your eyes drift skyward, Hebrew inscriptions. The interior benches and light fixtures were also designed by Guimard with flowing vegetal designs in true Art Nouveau style.
Pro Tip: Hector Guimard is responsible for the beautiful Art Nouveau Métro entrances found in Paris. Many of his Art Nouveau buildings can be found in the 16th arrondissement.
5. The Shoah Memorial (Paris Holocaust Museum)
Shoah is the Hebrew word for “catastrophe.”
What a catastrophe it was. Nearly six million European Jews were exterminated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during WWII.
To enter the memorial, one must first walk through the exhibit called, “Wall of Names.” 76,000 French Jewish names are inscribed on the walls organized in alphabetical order and including the year of deportation. Walk down the corridors between the walls absorbing the overwhelming number of names. Each name a person. Each name part of a family. Each name a life, a story.
Inside, find the huge Star of David with a single candle burning. A symbolic tomb under which lies the ashes of victims collected in the camps. The Shoah Memorial displays photographs, personal stories, artifacts, films, and documents to recount the Holocaust.
- Address: 17 Rue Geoffroy l’Asnier, 75004 Paris
- Hours: Monday to Friday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Thursday: Open until 10 p.m.
- Closed Saturday
- Admission: Free
- Free guided tours in English are every second Sunday of the month.
- Métro: Saint-Paul
6. The Memorial To The Martyrs Of The Deportation
At the eastern tip of Ile de La Cité just behind Notre Dame Cathedral is the Memorial To The Martyrs Of The Deportation. The Memorial To The Martyrs Of The Deportation was inaugurated by General de Gaulle in April 1962 and honors the 200,000 French people deported from Vichy France to the concentration camps.
The memorial is stark with narrow concrete passageways and small spaces intended to evoke the feeling of being imprisoned. The exhibits are particularly moving. One displaying small black triangles each naming a concentration camp and filled with earth and ashes from victims in each location. The long narrow Hall of Remembrance is lined with 160,000 stones. Each stone represents a person who perished. Each stone evokes the Jewish tradition of placing a stone on the grave of a loved one. Pause and ponder these words: “They descended into the mouth of the earth and they did not return,” carved into a circular ground display around a single light.
Poetry, real documents, and photographs all make this a sobering and valuable visit. It invites reflection and leaves the visitor with the words, “Forgive, but never forget.”
- Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday, closed Monday
- April 1 to September 30: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- October 1 to March 31: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Admission: Free
- Métro: Cité, Pont Marie
7. The Memorial Garden For The Children Of The Velodrome D’Hiver
This July in 2022, it was 80 years ago. 80 years ago on July 16 and 17 that French police rounded up 13,152 Jews in Paris and the suburbs. Held in horrendous conditions in the Velodrome d’Hiver (Vel d’hiv), a large indoor sports arena not far from the Eiffel Tower, these Parisians were sent directly to Auschwitz or the Drancy camp situated just outside of Paris. From Drancy, they were then sent on to their deaths.
This garden honors the memory of 4,115 children rounded up and separated from their parents, deported, and exterminated. Stand before the wall and read the names and ages of these children.
- Address: 7 Rue Nélaton, 75015 Paris
- Hours: Open daily
- Admission: Free
- Métro: Bir-Hakeim
Pro Tip: A plaque commemorating the victims is found facing the Bir-Hakeim Metro station where the Velodrome d’Hiver once stood.
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