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An Uncertain Future

An Uncertain Future: Voices of a French Jewish Community, 1940-2012

Robert I. Weiner
Richard E. Sharpless
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 344
  • Book Info
    An Uncertain Future
    Book Description:

    This contemporary oral history, based on interviews conducted over an 18-year period, is the first of its kind in English.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0560-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Robert I. Weiner and Richard E. Sharpless
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xxx)

    The majestic synagogue of Dijon stands where the medieval town of the Dukes of Burgundy and the modern city of post-revolutionary France converge. It shares a street with weathered nineteenth-century townhouses and bland twentieth-century apartment buildings, while on its north side the fortified walls of old Dijon once stood guard. The building, completed in 1879, mirrors the decorative style of the early Third Republic, along with a hint of Byzantine and even Islamic architecture in its high dome and corner towers. The synagogue is a fitting residence for the historic and varied traditions it has hosted.

    Built by the generosity...

    (pp. xxxi-xxxviii)
  7. Map of Central Dijon with Major Jewish Sites
    (pp. xxxix-xxxix)
  8. Speaking About Jewish Life in Dijon:: Interviews


      • Community Leaders

        • Rabbi Simon Sibony
          (pp. 3-22)

          I was born in 1945 in Meknès, a city like Dijon, of perhaps 200,000 people, the majority of whom were Muslims. It is in Morocco, a country where there was tolerance and friendship for Jews. I was born into a large family; we were 13 children, and that was the normal size of Jewish families. My mother—may her memory be blessed—was a woman very attached to her religion. My father was the same way, and he was very strict with me about Judaism. But he also was tolerant and open-minded. I try to follow his path.

          There were...

        • Cathie Bussidan
          (pp. 23-33)

          I was born in Paris ten months after my father’s return from the war. It was 1946. When I was two years old, we left and went to live in the countryside in Burgundy. I lived in a school where my mother was the only teacher in town. It was a very Catholic place. When I was little, I thought that everyone coming from Paris was Jewish. One day I didn’t understand because my parents had friends visiting who were not Jewish. My parents were antireligious and forbade me from saying that I was Jewish.

          I thought at the time...

        • Israël “Izy” Cemachovic
          (pp. 34-47)

          My father was 46 when he married my mother. They were married in Lithuania in 1946 after the war. He had returned from fighting in the Red Army against the Germans. When the Russians occupied Lithuania [in 1940], he was deported to a Siberian labor camp where he spent 14 months, but he was released into the Army. It was possible for Poles and other Eastern Europeans to fight alongside the Russians against the Germans. My mother spent four years, from age 13 to 17, in various [German] camps. She was not released until April 1945. The experience was very...

        • Albert Huberfeld
          (pp. 48-61)

          I was born in Dijon, but my parents came from Poland. My father migrated to France in 1934 and began work as a tailor. My mother’s family moved from Poland to Germany, and from there everybody went their own way: one uncle to England, another to Israel, a third to France. My mother was living with her brother in England. She was very happy. Jews had a better life in England where people are more accepting. But the family wanted my mother to marry, so they found a Polish Jew and sent her to Dijon. She didn’t have a choice....

        • Françoise Tenenbaum
          (pp. 62-83)

          My father’s name was Levy, but he changed it during the war. He was a conscripted soldier who was imprisoned in the German Stalag XII B, a prisoner’s camp in Frankenthal [Palatinate, Germany]. There, one of the French soldiers denounced my father by telling the Germans that he was Jewish. My father fortunately managed to escape the stalag with a friend, and they made their way back to France. He went to Lyon and began collaborating with the Resistance. That was when he decided to change his name to Lefebvre. After the war everyone knew him as Lefebvre, so he...

      • Survivors of the Holocaust

        • Bébé Edelman
          (pp. 84-87)

          The first thing that I remember is seeing my uncle hit his wife against the wall. He had six wives, and they all suffered the same thing. He was in Paris, the first one to leave Russia. Like my father, he was from Odessa; my mother, too. They left because of the pogroms against Jews. They spoke Russian and Yiddish at home. I didn’t learn French until I started school. My first language was Yiddish.

          I was born in Paris in 1921; we lived there until the war. I had a brother and a sister. My father ironed in a...

        • Marcelle David
          (pp. 88-99)

          My parents came from Łęczyka, a place 50 kilometers from Łodź, in Poland. Thanks to a factory work contract, my father was able to come to France in 1930 and work as a tailor. As an alien worker, he eventually was able to bring his mother; they joined four brothers and sisters who were already here. In the same year, in May, my mother, who was engaged to my father, also came. They got married in August 1930 in Belfort [in northeastern France], where my father was living and working.

          They were married by a Jewish mayor. For my mother,...

        • Nadia Kaluski
          (pp. 100-111)

          I was born in a small village in Seine-Loire, although my parents lived in Paris. It was six months before the end of World War I and Paris was under bombardment. My mother sought the peacefulness of the countryside, and that’s why I was born there. But afterwards my mother moved back to Paris. At that time, I had a brother who was four years old. Later my younger sister, Louise, was born.

          My father was a woodworker who made furniture. He was a Russian and a revolutionary. The czar’s police had arrested him and detained him for two years,...

      • Community Members

        • Deborah Bensoussan
          (pp. 112-119)

          My name is Deborah. I am 17, almost 18. I am in my last year of high school, before college. My high school major is economics. I have two sisters and a brother, who is much older than me. I am the youngest. My mother was a French teacher but is now retired. My father is a professor of microbiology at the university here in Dijon. My brother and sisters work in various sectors.*

          I am half Ashkenazi and half Sephardi. On my mother’s side, I am Ashkenazi; my grandfather’s name was Sam Edelman, my grandmother’s, Bébé Edelman. Both are...

        • Luna Cemachovic
          (pp. 120-130)

          All of my ancestors, as far as I know, were Jewish. They spoke Ladino.* My immediate grandparents spoke Greek, though my grandmother spoke to her family in Ladino. Unfortunately, my mother never wanted to learn it, though my grandmother wanted to teach her. So we missed out on learning that language. My father spoke Greek and didn’t speak Ladino….

          My family believes that not only my family but all the Jews in Greece go back to the Roman Empire. My father would tell you that we are not Sephardic, neither from Spain nor from North Africa, but that we are...

        • Alain Danino
          (pp. 131-136)

          My family is a Jewish family from Morocco that came to France in 1968 after the Six Day War in Israel. I was born in 1968 in Morocco, but my parents had left the country when they were 18 or 19 and were back only to settle some affairs there so I was born there by accident. My parents were very young. My grandfathers were businessmen in Casablanca. Our name “Dannie” might be from the expulsion of 1492, the exodus of Jews from Spain to Morocco. My parents dreamt about coming to France because Morocco was a French colony and...

        • Isabelle Danino
          (pp. 137-145)

          We have always been from Alsace, as long as I can remember. And Catholic. During the wars of 1914 and 1939 all my family remained in Alsace. My paternal grandfather, who was born in 1902, has changed his nationality four times. He and my grandmother belonged to the petite bourgeoisie. About what happened during the war [1939] I think that they were simply trying to tread water, without collaborating or resisting.

          My grandfather on my mother’s side did not know his parents. He was an orphan and lived with one of his aunts. After he married my grandmother, they founded...

        • Malou Dressler
          (pp. 146-152)

          In the 1950s, the mainstream values of an old Catholic country were very much alive in Dijon. That meant that being a Jew was not easy because we were viewed just after the war with the same ideas that pervaded France in the nineteenth century. I remember once, while in primary school, a young girl said to me, “You killed Jesus.” I didn’t know what that meant, so I wasn’t traumatized. I simply didn’t know anything about Jesus, and I certainly didn’t know why she was being rude to me.*

          The war had a bad effect on the health of...

        • Annie Edelman and Maurice “Gislain” Bensoussan
          (pp. 153-175)

          My name is Annie. I am 46 years old [in 1993]. I was born in France. I have been married twice, and I have six children and a grandson. My mother, who is still alive, was born in Paris in 1921 [see the interview with Bébé Edelman above, p. 84]. Her parents emigrated from Odessa, in Russia. My father, who was born in Warsaw in 1924, was two years old when his parents brought him to France. He had no memories of Poland, his native country. For him, it never existed. In addition to me, my parents had a son...

        • Alain Grynberg
          (pp. 176-185)

          My life in Paris had two important aspects: my studies and my life as a Jew. My first approach to Judaism started when I was six years old. We did not get very involved at home because my father erased Judaism from his life after the war [World War II]. But he still thought that his son should know about his religion.

          I started attending summer camps for Jews. This was in 1956, before the arrival of Sephardim in France. I went to a camp calledFoyer Ouvrier Juif[Jewish Workers’ Association], which is part of theL’Art du Talmud...

        • Elie Sadigh
          (pp. 186-196)

          I was born in Isfahan, Iran, into a traditional Jewish family, the third of eight children. When I was young, Jewish life was very good in Iran. We had a fine and well-organized Jewish community that got along well with the Muslims and the Armenians. We went to the Alliance Israélite School in Isfahan. My father was an important Jewish scholar and one of the major interpreters of Judaism in Iran; people came to ask him questions, and he translated and explained the Torah.

          The community at one time numbered about 15,000. It was observant. For example, Jews ate kosher;...

        • Jennifer Taieb
          (pp. 197-222)

          Like most [American] Jews, I was born in Brooklyn. That’s a French myth about Brooklyn. If you say that you’re from there, they already know. You’re either Black or Jewish.

          My father is a retired baker, and my mother didn’t have a professional activity because at the time it was an embarrassment for a married woman to work. She was very frustrated about this because she would have liked to work. She’s a dynamic person. My father was born in Poland, my mother in New York. But her father was born in Poland, too, though his family was very “German.”...


      • Haim Slonim and Hannah Slonim
        (pp. 224-229)

        Haim: I was born a Lubavitch in Israel in 1967. I lived there for 20 years, then studied in Brooklyn, New York for about five years. Then before our marriage I went to Russia for a year. The Lubavitch were the ones who opened a synagogue there. In the days of Gorbachev,* we opened a Yeshiva. The government gave us an old synagogue.

        After [Hannah and I] got married, we stayed in New York for one year to study. Hannah was born near Paris. She’s from an old Lubavitch community from after the war. . . . Her father was...

      • David Laufer
        (pp. 230-238)

        I was born in September 1971 in Besançon, a provincial town not far from Dijon, where there was a large Jewish community with a rabbi, a synagogue, and a separate community center. I grew up there and did my bar mitzvah there when I was 13. I have two older brothers, one who recently moved to Israel and the other living in Besançon.

        My father was a Jew from Poland, born there in 1927. My mother is a Jew from Alsace. They went to Switzerland during the war; afterwards, they came to Besançon. In Switzerland, my parents took refuge with...

      • Marcel and Leah Tobis
        (pp. 239-244)

        Marcel: I am Ashkenazi in origin. My parents came from Bessarabia, from Kishinev in Moldova. But I was born in Marseille. My father came to France in 1928 to study, then my mother followed in 1935 to get married to my father. They were cousins. My father studied at the École Supérieure de Commerce in Montpellier. He became an accountant and worked in Marseille. My mother was a housewife. I had a sister. The Jewish things that we did were [celebrating] Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Our orientation was pretty liberal. I went to study at the Talmud Torah, but...

    • OTHERS

      • Jean-David and Arielle Attal
        (pp. 246-255)

        Arielle: I was born in 1963 in Meaux, in Seine-et-Marne, the first child of my family born in France. Both of my parents were born in Algeria, my father in a small village called Soukaras, my mother in a bigger town, near the coast. They came in 1962 during the repatriation of the French [following the Algerian War for Independence] and settled in a small village 40 kilometers from Paris. My father was a teacher, but things didn’t go so well. He was 42 at the time; he had left his mother in Algeria because she hadn’t wanted to leave....

      • Alex Miles
        (pp. 256-266)

        From the viewpoint of being a Jew in the Bronx—oh, there were fights! Where we lived was a dividing line between our enclave of semi-detached houses on one side and the projects on the other side where Puerto Ricans, blacks, and poor whites lived. We moved there in the late 1950s when there were gang wars, big metal trash cans being thrown through house windows, that sort of thing.

        There was a kid who called me a dirty Jew, so I beat him up.

        The funniest thing that happened was in fifth grade when one of my best friends...

      • Babette Miles
        (pp. 267-275)

        I didn’t realize that I was Jewish until I was 16 or 17. No one ever told me. It was because of the war. When my father was arrested, in order to protect us, [my parents] decided to have us baptized, my sister and me. At that time, my sister was, perhaps, six or eight. There were priests who were willing to help and who did not ask many questions. So we were baptized, and after the war my father did not practice although he had a basic traditional religious education. My mother did not have any religious instruction at...

  9. Writing About Jewish Life in Dijon:: Mazal Tov

    • Introduction
      (pp. 278-278)

      The Dijon community’s journal,Mazal Tov, has appeared almost continuously but under several different names since its first publication in the late 1970s. Its contents have varied little over the past three decades. It continues to provide a wealth of information on issues of concern to the community, plus material on history, other Jewish communities, the Holocaust, Israel, and anti-Semitism. It reports on communal business and recent events, and lists information on all of the holidays and religious ceremonies celebrated in the community. And, like all good local papers, it carries advertisements of upcoming events, humor, recipes, notices of weddings...

      (pp. 279-300)

      Dear friends and fellow Jews,

      Resident of Dijon for 70 years, member of this community for 55 years, president of the ACID* for 12 years, descendant of a family whose roots in Dijon go back 210 years and who were among those who built our temple, I have the right to be worried and to take, once and for all, a position opposing the critical and demanding minority, who believe they have the right to judge, to criticize, to decide, to claim, or to demand.

      Certain people have hoped for years to take control of our community. Profiting from the...

    (pp. 301-308)

    The experience of the Jewish community of Dijon since the end of World War II can be described as an arc: restoration and recovery in the decade immediately following the war; slow, steady renewal into the 1960s; expansion, struggle, and assimilation into the 1980s; a decade of dynamic achievement and expansion; and, from the mid-1990s on, division and slow decline. It is a model that, unfortunately, characterizes many similar Jewish communities throughout France and, possibly, Europe as well.

    In the years since the final interviews were conducted in 2007, trends noted earlier have continued. There is now a distinct feeling...

    (pp. 309-314)
    (pp. 315-316)
    (pp. 317-328)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 329-344)