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Empty Doorposts

A photo essay on the missing mezuzot of Paris

by
Patrick Zachmann
June 05, 2024

©Patrick Zachmann / Magnum Photos

©Patrick Zachmann / Magnum Photos

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This article is part of Tablet in Paris.
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The number of antisemitic acts in France has soared after the Hamas massacres in Israel, from 436 in 2022 to 1,676 since Oct. 7. As a result, the mezuzah has become a mark of Jewishness that, instead of protecting the occupants of a home, can become an invitation to antisemitic attacks such as the one that took place in the 20th arrondissement of Paris at the home of an elderly Jewish couple whose door, with its mezuzah, was set on fire.

Many Jews have reluctantly removed their mezuzot from outside their homes and put them inside. Some refuse to do so, so as not to be overcome by fear.

As a photographer, I have long been documenting the phenomenon of antisemitism in France. In the 1980s, it was manifested in the form of attacks perpetrated by Palestinians at Goldenberg’s deli, the rue Copernic synagogue, in Carpentras, at the Bagneux Jewish cemetery, and elsewhere, triggering huge demonstrations of support—but also in Jean-Marie Le Pen’s disturbing far-right political party, which was openly antisemitic and negationist. Since the 1990s, France has been witnessing a new and more pervasive form of antisemitism, not imported from abroad but coming from French people of Arab Muslim origin.

When I learned that some Jews were removing their mezuzahs from outside their homes, some even removing their names from their mailboxes, I had the idea of photographing the traces of these mezuzot.

I started by talking to Jewish friends and acquaintances about it, then I tried a few more institutional contacts, such as a Jewish radio station, a rabbi, a Jewish museum. None of these official leads came to anything. Only my personal contacts worked. My first missing mezuzah came through a friend whose daughter Hannah, a student, immediately agreed to let me visit her and her flatmate.

Word of mouth started to spread. Some people recommended me to their son, to an elderly cousin. This photographic essay is therefore not representative of the Jewish community as a whole but rather of an enlarged circle of practicing or just believing friends.

While the events of Oct. 7 were traumatic for Israelis and for Jews in the diaspora, they should not have generated this feeling of insecurity, or even fear, here in France or elsewhere. But that’s what has happened.

Personally, I refuse to live in fear. But I can understand why old people who live alone and are used to having their food delivered to their homes, or families living in working-class suburbs, are afraid. They have good reasons.

Fabienne and Antoine, both French Jews: We decided to withdraw our mezuzah from outside around Oct. 15, 2023, as the number of antisemitic acts became very high and frightening. We put a sticker representing a Santa Claus outside and the mezuzah inside. I was very sad to withdraw it because it meant that we were afraid and did not feel safe anymore. Just before, we had to call television technicians. They were Arabs and spoke between them in Arabic, saying "They are jewish." As I have Moroccan origins, I could understand them. Then, my son, who belonged to a WhatsApp group of young Jewish students, had been badly threatened after a pro-Palestinian guy infiltrated the group. All these facts together made us decide not to keep the mezuzah outside. We are very attentive to the situation and ready to leave France.
Fabienne and Antoine, both French Jews: We decided to withdraw our mezuzah from outside around Oct. 15, 2023, as the number of antisemitic acts became very high and frightening. We put a sticker representing a Santa Claus outside and the mezuzah inside. I was very sad to withdraw it because it meant that we were afraid and did not feel safe anymore. Just before, we had to call television technicians. They were Arabs and spoke between them in Arabic, saying “They are jewish.” As I have Moroccan origins, I could understand them. Then, my son, who belonged to a WhatsApp group of young Jewish students, had been badly threatened after a pro-Palestinian guy infiltrated the group. All these facts together made us decide not to keep the mezuzah outside. We are very attentive to the situation and ready to leave France.

©Patrick Zachmann / Magnum Photos

Paris, Nov. 24, 2023. Mezuzah inside the apartment of Monique in the 12th district and its trace outside of the door once the mezuzah was removed. Monique was a “patronière” (pattern-maker) in the tailoring business. She is a believer: respects Shabbat and observes the main Jewish festivals. She said she didn’t remove her mezuzah just after Oct. 7, the day of the Hamas massacres in Israel, but rather once antisemitic acts started to be committed in France. “I am afraid as I have a handicap and I am obliged to order products to be delivered at home. I put the mezuzah inside, just at the entrance of my apartment, but I didn't stick it but instead put some Scotch tape. I hope it will be only temporary.”
Paris, Nov. 24, 2023. Mezuzah inside the apartment of Monique in the 12th district and its trace outside of the door once the mezuzah was removed. Monique was a “patronière” (pattern-maker) in the tailoring business. She is a believer: respects Shabbat and observes the main Jewish festivals. She said she didn’t remove her mezuzah just after Oct. 7, the day of the Hamas massacres in Israel, but rather once antisemitic acts started to be committed in France. “I am afraid as I have a handicap and I am obliged to order products to be delivered at home. I put the mezuzah inside, just at the entrance of my apartment, but I didn’t stick it but instead put some Scotch tape. I hope it will be only temporary.”

©PATRICK ZACHMANN / MAGNUM PHOTOS

Joinville-le-Pont, France, Jan. 30, 2024. Estelle and Michael have always had a mezuzah inside their house “not to show that they are Jewish”—and a horseshoe outside that replaces somehow the mezuzah, sort of protecting their house. Both are French: Estelle of Moroccan origins; her husband’s grandmother was a survivor from Auschwitz.
Joinville-le-Pont, France, Jan. 30, 2024. Estelle and Michael have always had a mezuzah inside their house “not to show that they are Jewish”—and a horseshoe outside that replaces somehow the mezuzah, sort of protecting their house. Both are French: Estelle of Moroccan origins; her husband’s grandmother was a survivor from Auschwitz.

©PATRICK ZACHMANN / MAGNUM PHOTOS

Paris, Nov. 14, 2023. Removed mezuzah from the outside door with its trace and put inside at Emma and her roommate’s apartment in the 13th district of Paris after the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel and after hundreds of antisemitic acts in France. Emma is a science student sharing her apartment with a roommate, who started to be afraid.
Paris, Nov. 14, 2023. Removed mezuzah from the outside door with its trace and put inside at Emma and her roommate’s apartment in the 13th district of Paris after the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel and after hundreds of antisemitic acts in France. Emma is a science student sharing her apartment with a roommate, who started to be afraid.

©PATRICK ZACHMANN / MAGNUM PHOTOS

Sucy-en-Brie, France, Dec. 17, 2023. Mezuzah inside the apartment of Marc and Annie, Jews originally from Algeria, 86 and 79 years old, and its trace outside once they removed it after Oct. 7, especially when they heard of a Jewish woman’s door with a mezuzah was burned in the 19th district of Paris.
Sucy-en-Brie, France, Dec. 17, 2023. Mezuzah inside the apartment of Marc and Annie, Jews originally from Algeria, 86 and 79 years old, and its trace outside once they removed it after Oct. 7, especially when they heard of a Jewish woman’s door with a mezuzah was burned in the 19th district of Paris.

©PATRICK ZACHMANN / MAGNUM PHOTOS

Paris, Nov. 27, 2023. Mezuzah inside the apartment of Eva in Neuilly-sur-Seine and its trace outside of the door once the mezuzah was removed. Eva, a Moroccan Jew, had a pharmacy before retiring. She removed her mezuzah from the outside after Oct. 7, the day after she saw on TV a report of a door with a mezuzah at an old Jewish couple’s apartment had been burned in the 20th district of Paris. Living alone since her husband passed away, she is afraid of deliveries.
Paris, Nov. 27, 2023. Mezuzah inside the apartment of Eva in Neuilly-sur-Seine and its trace outside of the door once the mezuzah was removed. Eva, a Moroccan Jew, had a pharmacy before retiring. She removed her mezuzah from the outside after Oct. 7, the day after she saw on TV a report of a door with a mezuzah at an old Jewish couple’s apartment had been burned in the 20th district of Paris. Living alone since her husband passed away, she is afraid of deliveries.

©PATRICK ZACHMANN / MAGNUM PHOTOS

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This article is part of Tablet in Paris.
See the full collection →︎

Patrick Zachmann is a French photojournalist, based in Paris. He is a full member of Magnum Photos. In 1989 Zachmann received the Niépce Prize, and in 2016 the Prix Nadar for his book So Long, China.

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