Three years after the Hyper Kosher siege, the French Jewish community is still wary. Last week, the Minister of Interior published the yearly numbers of anti-Semitic crimes. While racist crimes dropped by 16 percent, violent anti-Semitic ones committed nearby or at Jewish locations increased by 22 percent in 2017. That same week, the trial of Kabili Traore—a Muslim Parisian who stabbed and killed Sarah Halimi, a sixty-year old Jewish Parisian last April—took an unexpected turn as the felony was not recognized as a hate crime, even though, according to several witnesses, Traore shouted anti-Semitic slurs as he murdered his victim.
It is in this context that Radio Shalom, a very popular left-wing French Jewish radio, has decided to relocate. On a frisky Sunday morning in a backstreet near Republique square, Bernard Abouaf, the yarmulke wearing director of the station, opened the door to guests.
“I am the bouncer today,” he said, smiling. The new studio has neither bell nor sign, only a reinforced door. It is a very anonymous entrance, which is intended to keep potential disruptors away.
Abouaf is keen on speaking about the new studio, guaranteeing that the station will keep its “unbiased information.” Launched in the early eighties, Radio Shalom has a sizable audience, registering about 100,000 daily listeners. It is famous for sustaining a conversation in a community that has been less and less inclusive over the years. “Today, the community needs open-minded media, with a strong tone. We also need to be able to listen to everyone,” Abouaf said. While commenting on Halimi’s trial, he added that the French Jewish community needs to gather around a project. For many years, the dislocated community struggled sharing the same opinion on various topics, weakening its representatives.
Radio host and rabbi Gilles Bernheim helped inaugurate the station’s new digs. “We need to remember that we are all part of the same tribe,” he said, pinning the new mezuzah in place. “After all, we are all descendants of Egyptian slaves.” A mezuzah, rabbi Bernheim reminded the small audience in attendance, “means that anybody is welcome here, thus we need to respect each and every one.”
But while the station pursues its message of inclusion, anti-semitism remains rampant in France. Last month, for example, humorist Laura Laune made a joke about the Holocaust on French national TV, causing an uproar amongst survivors, a few days before the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
And while Radio Shalom’s staff is very enthusiastic about the new location, they are reminded of the reason for the added security: Last week, a young eight year-old schoolboy was beaten up by two teenagers because he was wearing a yarmulke in a heavily Jewish Paris suburb. This time, the news went mainstream and hate crime charges were pressed against the young assailants. It seems that the community’s responsibility will be to keep on publicizing stories like this, which mainstream media often don’t.
Annabelle Azadé is a journalist based in Los Angeles. She has reported from Bangkok, New York, Tel Aviv, London, and Paris.