PARIS (RNS) On Fridays, the Boucherie de l’Argonne closes early. Its Muslim workers head to afternoon prayers. The Jews prepare for Shabbat — a practical accommodation for staff sharing similar roots and cultural references.
“We work well together,” says Philippe Zribi, a Tunisian-born Jew whose family runs the butcher’s store that employs eight people: three Jews, three Muslims and two Catholics.
In a city still recovering from last year’s deadly extremist terror attacks, where national news is dotted with reports of anti-Semitism, the store tucked next to an abandoned railroad track offers a more positive face of interfaith relations.
With an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Jews living in the 19th arrondissement, the district is home to one of the largest Jewish neighborhoods in Europe, according to local Deputy Mayor Mahor Chiche. It also includes a sizable Muslim population that mostly hails from North and sub-Saharan Africa.
“There’s a real mix, both socially and religiously,” says Chiche. “The older generation who lived together in Algeria, Tunisia or Morocco, they know each other. They speak Arabic, Hebrew and French. But the younger generation has a harder time getting to know each other. More work needs to be done there.”
Across France, anti-Muslim acts tripled last year from 2014, to nearly 400, while anti-Jewish acts were double that number, according to Interior Ministry statistics.
When a Kurdish teen attacked a Marseille Jewish teacher with a machete last month, some Jews opted to remove their yarmulkes and keep a low profile.
“I remain pretty pessimistic,” says Sammy Ghozlan, who heads the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, a French watchdog group near Paris. Like many others, he blames the attacks on young Muslims and, to a lesser degree, the far right.
Those incidents add to a broader, troubling picture of race and religion in France. A new IPSOS survey finds more than two-thirds of French Jews believe anti-Semitism has greatly increased over the past five years. More than one-quarter of all French surveyed said they had personally encountered insults and other problems with Muslims over the past year, according to the report commissioned by the French Judaism Foundation.