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Discovering the Jewish Heart of Paris: An Insider’s Guide

Paris is one of the great cities of Western European civilization and is one of the great cultural centers of the world. The city also has a rich Jewish history, with evidence of a Jewish community in Paris as far back as the Roman Empire. Modern Paris is a popular destination for Jewish travel, offering an unbeatable mixture of cultural and historical treasures, as well as amazing cuisine and luxury hotels. Organized Jewish tours in Paris are a superb way to explore the City of Light and its vibrant Jewish history.

Le Marais: The Historical Heart of Jewish Culture in Paris

Discovering the Jewish Heart of Paris by walking in it

Le Marais is an historical Parisian neighborhood located in parts of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements (districts) of the City. It was originally an aristocratic area, but gradually became less popular with the nobility. After the French Revolution, Le Marais became a commercial center and a thriving Jewish quarter. The quartier, informally known as the Pletzl (Yiddish for little place) was centered around the famous Rue des Rosiers or Street of the Rose Bushes. 

If you want to meet the Jewish community in Paris, try exploring the Marais and Rue des Rosiers on a sunny day (subway station: Saint-Paul). As you stroll through the old neighborhoods, you can take in the amazing historical architecture, explore the kosher boulangeries (bakeries),charcuteries (kosher butchers), delis and restaurants, and Jewish boutiques and bookshops. It’s a real pleasure to watch the people enjoying the cafes and brasseries in the regenerated Jewish quarter. The 21st century Marais is a fashionable and desirable district that experienced something of a Jewish rebirth and claims to serve the best falafel and humus outside Israel!

Other Historical Jewish Neighborhoods in Paris

  • The 5th arrondissement – just south of Notre Dame. There is some evidence that the Church of St-Julien-le-Pauvre was built on the site of an old synagogue.
  • Rue de la Vieille Juiverie (Old Jewry Street) and surrounding streets were home to historical synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. The area lies between the present day Bd. Saint Germain and the River Seine.
  • The Ile de la Cité, an island in the Seine roughly between Le Marais and Bd.Saint Germain, was home to the medieval Jewish community that hosted the famous Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela.

Jewish Tours of Iconic Synagogues in Paris

Jewish Tours of Iconic Synagogues in Paris

As with most European cities, Jewish history in Paris was turbulent and sometimes tragic. There were periods of persecution, official discrimination and even expulsions – including the Dreyfus Affair and the shameful French participation in the Nazi deportation of 75,000 French Jews during the occupation. There were, however, many interludes of peace, prosperity and tolerance. Among the fruits of these better times are several beautiful synagogues that played an important role in the Jewish heritage of Paris.

  • Grand Synagogue of Paris (Synagogue de la Victoire) 
  • Synagogue des Tournelles, in the Marais district
  • Synagogue de Nazareth, the oldest synagogue in Paris
  • Buffault Synagogue, built for the Portuguese Jewish community
  • Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue (Synagogue de la Rue Pavée) 

The Synagogue des Tournelles and the distinctive art nouveau style Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue are both situated in Le Marais and can be explored as part of a local walking tour (the Synagogue de Nazareth is also just to the north). The imposing Grand Synagogue of Paris is a short walk from Le Peletier subway station, as is the Portuguese Buffault Synagogue. Both are well worth a visit and are also within easy reach of Pigalle and Montmartre, as well as the Paris Opera and several museums. 

Explore Jewish Culture in Paris through Museums and Exhibitions

Paris is noted for its superb museums and art galleries. National institutions like the Louvre, the Pompidou Center and the Musée D’Orsay attract millions of visitors every year. Museums like the Museum of Jewish Art and History (Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme or mahJ) do an amazing job of preserving Jewish heritage in Paris. Exhibits span Jewish history from ancient antiquity, through the middle ages and the renaissance and into modern times. 

If you want to gain a fast initial insight into France’s Jewish heritage, the mahJ is the place to start. The Museum of Jewish Art and History is located at the heart of the Marais. Custom Jewish tours in Paris can be adapted to allow half a day, or even a full day to explore this world-class museum. Upcoming exhibitions in 2024 include the work of photographer André Steiner and the enigmatic art of Jérôme Zonder.

Commemorating the Holocaust 

An estimated 72,500 French Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Despite the complicity and collaboration of elements of the French State and Nazi sympathizers, three quarters of the country’s Jewish population survived the war. Those who died are commemorated by the Parisian Holocaust Memorial (Le Mémorial de la Shoah). The memorial is actually a museum and not a monument and is located at 17 Rue Geoffroy l’Asnier towards the southern edge of the Marais. 

After World War Two France struggled to face up to many aspects of the German occupation and its wartime history. Among the most difficult issues to explore was the deportation and murder of French Jewish citizens. Although there were many courageous acts of decency and altruism (Israel recognized many French people as members of the Righteous Among Nations for their heroism in protecting Jews) the 

Mémorial de la Shoah bears testimony not just to the German atrocities, but to the complicity of the Vichy regime.

Gourmet or Gourmand? Kosher Cuisine in Paris!

Gourmet or Gourmand? Kosher Cuisine in Paris!

The French take the important things in life extremely seriously; not least good food, wine and month long summer vacations. Paris is arguably the best city in Europe to eat top quality kosher food and the Jewish community in Paris is very well served by its kosher restaurants, delis, charcuteries and markets. Kosher French food has a huge range of influences, including Ashkenazi, North African and Mediterranean, modern Israeli dishes – and several centuries of French culinary traditions. 

The restaurant business is notoriously tough with eateries coming and going all the time. Nothing beats local knowledge when you’re planning a kosher food tour of any city, and a private guide will make sure that you visit the best restaurants, bakeries and street food joints in the city, as well as the most promising newcomers on the Parisian Jewish food scene. Some of our current favorites include:

  • Le Train Bleu (Gare de Lyon station). A kosher restaurant that gives diners an authentic taste of traditional French cuisine with a Jewish twist.
  • Mulko (29 Rue d´Enghien). If you’re looking for Middle Eastern meat dishes with a homely flavor, check out Mulko. The shakshuka and desserts are also top notch.
  • Le Marais Cosher Marché. If you want to stop for a snack while you’re exploring the Marais, the centrally located Cosher Marché is a great place to pick up a sandwich or pastry or to buy food for a picnic in the park.

Meet the Jewish Community in Paris

Meet the Jewish Community in Paris

Depending on who you count as a Jew, France’s Jewish community has between 480,000 and 600,000 members – and is the third largest in the diaspora. The Parisian Jewish community is resilient, vibrant and sophisticated, and is generally very welcoming to guests. If you want to meet members of the Jewish community in Paris, Gil Travel has some excellent local contacts. You might be looking to meet French Jews who share cultural and historical interests, or you may want to discuss the situation of world Jewry since October 7th and build links for future dialogue and communication.

It’s often just a pleasure to meet the locals at cultural events and at local community centers. The language barrier is usually not too much of a problem, especially if you have a professional guide who is fluent in both English and French. We’ve even seen American and French Jews communicating in Hebrew before now! If you’re interested in attending cultural workshops, or making new friends in Paris, talk to Gil Travel when you plan your tour.

If you want to explore Jewish culture in Paris, talk to Gil Travel about how to really experience the City of Light and choose the perfect time of the year to visit. Gil Travel can offer you a choice of the best luxury hotels and kosher hotels in Paris, as well as advice on luxury self-catering options. We’ll also make sure that you enjoy a memorable gourmet experience and have the opportunity to sample some outstanding kosher food. 

If you observe Shabbat, GIl Travel can arrange Shabbat-compliant accommodation within walking distance of a synagogue. Saturdays in the Marais can be a delight as many of the Jewish community love to stroll in the neighborhood or sit quietly in its cafes and restaurants. The Jewish heritage experience in Paris is full of surprises and many Americans are pleasantly surprised by how friendly and welcoming the French can be.

If you’re looking for a luxury trip that’s packed with cultural activity, and a chance to experience some of the world’s greatest cultural and historical treasures, Gil Travel can help you to create the perfect Parisian itinerary!

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