After the shock of October 7, young Jews reconnect with their religion

Autor: La croix international

During her thorough house cleaning for Passover, which requires getting rid of anything that may contain traces of leaven, Valentine claims she threw away half the contents of her fridge and cupboards. The 32-year-old psychiatrist is excited to celebrate the Jewish Passover this year.

Last year, Passover fell on the same date as the Catholic Easter, and Valentine, who had been raised in the Catholic tradition and was beginning to wonder about her Jewish origins, felt torn, even “fragmented,” while attending Mass. The attacks on October 7 in Israel, where she was visiting a friend, changed everything. She lived secluded for a whole week with the Israeli family she was visiting. “I felt like I belonged to the people of Israel,” she says. “Back in France, my sense of Jewishness was evident, irreversible.”

“The day I woke up Jewish”

Like Valentine, October 7 initiated a subtle but real return to Jewish roots among French Jews with buried or uncertain origins. This phenomenon is difficult to quantify, but rabbis and community leaders have been attentive to their growing numbers. “Since October 7, about ten people have come to us for lessons,” notes the modern Orthodox rabbi Émile Ackermann. Those who approach them are not always explicitly religious – primarily, they feel the need to understand why they feel connected to October 7.

Two days before the Hamas attacks, Blanche Sabbah, a 28-year-old comic book author and feminist activist, posted on Instagram about revisiting her Jewish origins. This identity, transmitted by a father completely detached from religion, has always seemed distant to her. Yet, her Sephardi family, her name, and especially the violent anti-Semitism she experienced brought her back to her heritage.

With more than 110,000 followers on Instagram, Blanche published her illustrated autobiographical story on October 5. But two days later, Israel suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history, and her social media post was suddenly dissected by the public in light of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “What was a beautiful moment of sharing, of testimony, turned two days later into a nightmarish trial,” Blanche recalls.

A month later, Blanche and her family hesitated to join the November 12 demonstration against antisemitism – did they belong there? Would their presence be exploited by the far-right political parties also present at the demonstration? The family ultimately chose to attend, and the presence of ‘Golem’, a collective of left-wing Jewish activists that attempted to block the far-right procession, was a relief and an identity affirmation for Blanche.

For Fabienne Messica, a 68-year-old sociologist, the appearance of ‘Golem’ was also a “divine surprise.” Fabienne, who has been involved in the Human Rights League of France for over twenty years, says that October 7 was an “awakening.”

Born in Tunisia, she was sent to Israel for studies. Back in France, she joined third-world, anti-racist activist circles. She set aside her Jewish identity and the religion she was attached to as a child to devote herself to a universalist approach. While she has endured “some antisemitic slurs” over the years, October 7 was “a tsunami of violent remarks.”

Since that day, Fabienne has rekindled her “love of (Jewish) texts.” “I can spend hours studying a text from the Jewish tradition,” she says. “I found the need to revisit the idea of the chosen people, to find universality in Jewish identity, to intellectually train myself and allow myself to deconstruct the antisemitism present in current events and in our activist circles.”

Reconnecting to one’s family history

This return to Judaism often implies a thirst to better understand one’s family history. Valentine, raised as a Catholic, knew little about her own, except for the origins of her German grandmother, who was Jewish and Ashkenazi.

After October 7, she embarked on a search and discovered from an uncle the story of her family during the Holocaust, and learned that she descended from the Cohen lineage. “I needed to know more, to affirm my identity and feel more legitimate in joining a community,” she explains. “I first went to liberal synagogues. I needed a framework; I completely lacked references there.” After trying to attend a Sephardic synagogue, she finally turned to the modern Orthodox community Ayéka, recommended to her by a Torah teacher in Israel. With rabbi Émile Ackermann, she learns history, culture, texts, and mitzvot, the principles that govern Jewish life.

This familiarization with religious rites is not obvious for these Jews, often raised far away from religion and its rites. Certainly, by joining Golem, Fabienne Messica discovered a whole network of engaged Jewish collectives that stemmed from the plurality of movements within French Judaism. But the sociologist, who distanced herself from religious practice decades ago, does not always find herself connected with the practices of Golem.

Blanche Sabbah, who is also not a believer, does not find herself within a community organized around religious principles. However, she draws from the texts of the Jewish tradition characters that she elevates, in her comic books, to the status of feminist figures: women such as Eve, Judith, and the Queen of Sheba.

As for Valentine, long a Catholic, she has gradually integrated into the Ayéka community. She is learning the rites, the practices, and seeks to deepen her belief system: does sin exist in Judaism? What do you do when you violate a mitzvah? With her questions, Valentine, who is misunderstood by her parents and siblings, remains isolated.

Like Passover, Jewish holidays are often experienced first within the family. “Fortunately, I signed up to attend a seder in the community,” she says. At the heart of the Jewish Passover, the seder is the ritual meal that celebrates resilience.

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