After Attacks, Bolstering Jewish Resilience in France

December 8, 2015


After the Jan. 9 attacks at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket, JDC and UJA-Federation of New York teamed up with the French Jewish social services organization Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE) to establish the Resilience Center, which bolsters the French Jewish community’s resilience training and capacity.

We’re grateful that — at this critical time following the recent terror attacks in Paris — Patricia Sitruk, OSE’s director-general, took a moment to answer some of our most pressing questions.

Q: Describe the Resilience Center. How has it helped your community?
A: The Resilience Center aims to provide psychological support and counseling:

  • to victims of anti-Semitic attacks and violent acts against Jews and Jewish sites
  • to the Jewish community of France, affected by the general climate of violence and anti-Semitism, especially the most vulnerable: children and teenagers attending Jewish schools, along with the elderly and disabled persons cared for at Jewish institutions.

The program is led by professional therapists who share appropriate, specific trauma training adapted to these dramatic situations and to specific types of vulnerable people. The program provides effective, rapid support and help in both the immediate and longer-term aftermath of violent attacks on Jewish sites and people.

The center’s therapists actively train Jewish teachers and educators and social service workers, heightening their awareness of how to address and deal collectively with violent anti-Semitic acts and sentiments. The attack of January 9, 2015 on the Hyper Cacher grocery store in Paris — killing four Jews, injuring one severely, and taking several customers hostage — was a peak in violence and will bear long-term consequences. The climate is one of stress and anxiety for many Jewish people in France, heightened by the attack of November 13 in several locations in Paris, which created a new horrible situation for all French people, Jewish and non-Jewish.

Q: What does resilience mean to you, particularly at this moment in time?
A: Going back to a normal life after these kinds of attacks is a challenge for everybody. Learning to accept the fact that we now have to live our daily lives under the permanent threat of deadly violence is equally difficult. Still, I believe we are offered only one choice: going forward with our lives and our projects, while being more aware than ever of the preciousness of life. In this period of Chanukah, it is essential to believe we have the power to make things change for our children and future generations.

Q: Why are partnerships with organizations like JDC or UJA-Federation of New York important?
A: Partnerships with JDC or UJA are not only important; they are vital for carrying out our projects that in turn help create a solid and stronger society, able to resist both individually and collectively the threats the world is facing today. We are ever grateful for your support and help.

Q: What do you see as the greatest need for the French community?
A: The French community needs reassurance, and reassurance means increased and long-lasting security measures in Jewish institutions, schools, and community centers, along with psychological support both for the general Jewish population and the most vulnerable among us — schoolchildren, the elderly, etc. The French community also needs to know the specific threats it is facing are addressed and understood by the French government.

Q: After the attacks, what do you observe as the attitude on the streets, in synagogues, etc.? How are French Jews feeling?
A: French Jews, along with the general French population, feel threatened and targeted in their daily lives. Their sense of security, their carefree nature, has been shattered. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the streets of Paris were empty, as were the shops, the cafés and restaurants, and public transportation.

Though things have understandably still not gone back to normal, people are now trying to resume their daily lives and routine. As for the synagogues, in my personal experience, I believe they have been sought out maybe more than before by many Jews who were not until then “regulars,” out of the very human need to gather when confronted with horrible crimes and threats — to seek reassurance, strength, and answers as to how to deal with this new situation and go on living.

Q: Have there been changes in terms of culture or attitude since the Hyper Cacher attacks?
A: I think the French Jewish community has been reacting a bit like the Israeli population after a terror strike: Fright and horror feelings give way to a position that says, “We will not be crushed by fear and terror and we will go on living. We’ll be more aware and careful than before, but we will go on living.”

People have not stopped shopping in kosher shops, and they have not attended fewer religious services, but they need the help and support of the Resilience Center to maintain that uvacharta baHayim (“And you will choose life”) position in their daily lives.

Q: What is important for other communities, particularly the American Jewish community, to understand right now?
A: The French Jewish community needs to know it is not facing this threat alone, that we are part of one group that will stand for each other and help each other in times of need. We received many messages and gestures of support from all over the world, and especially from the American Jewish community, with whom we have a very close connection. It was and still is essential for us to know that we are not alone. The support and friendship of the American Jewish community is a crucial factor in our dealing with this situation.

Q: What do you see for France moving forward? Are you hopeful?
A: Making a prognosis at this moment is very delicate. It seems to me most of the things we had thought firm and strong and had built on for such a long time are evolving into something we cannot foresee. But as head of a social organization, I believe in the ability of man to make things change and matter. If we are able to help children and people in need and change their weakness into strength, we are actually contributing, on a small scale, to a stronger and positive society. Thank you for helping us do so.

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