Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The One In Which I Discover the Lille Jewish Community

I've lived in Lille for about 10 years but I've been a Jew my whole life.

When I first got to Lille, I tried the synagogue a few times and I really tried hard to like it, but  there were something about the rapid-fire Hebrew, lack of order and the relegation of the women to the upper floor that didn't sit right with me.

When Suzanne was about 3, I took her to the synagogue to hear the shofar for Rosh Hashanah. I recall sitting through endless hours of incomprehensible mayhem before the shofar even got taken out. We then hightailed it out of there and I swore never to return because it just wasn't giving me what I want.

And I do regret the lack of Jewish culture my kids are exposed to, but I give them what I hold important. We do Hanukkah with some family here in Lille, we light shabbat candles sometimes, we eat apples and honey to celebrate the new year and in the past couple years I've had a mini-seder at home based on Sammy Spider's Passover Haggadah. But, there's not community...

When my mother was visiting in March, she gently insisted that I get in touch with the synagogue to see what was going on for Purim. We ended up attending the Purim party, Suzanne and Max participated in the costume contest (Suzanne as a princess and Max as a king), and I even met a nice woman who lives around the block from me. So  I thought I'd give it another chance...I mean, most of the people looked "normal" enough. Even the Chabbad rabbi who was dressed as Super Purim (Suzanne was cracking up because she thought it was super pourri which means super rotten in French!).

So last Friday night, I dragged my tired and hungry kids to the synagogue for the community seder. After entertaining them for an hour and a half while the Friday night service took place (included much climbing up and down the stairs and running in the hallway), we sat down to eat. As I looked around at the other people,  I recognized my eye doctor whose children were sitting calmly and quietly with their parents while mine were jumping up and down, climbing on me while Suzanne spilled her juice literally all over the seder place.  It was a very Pamela Druckerman moment, I must say. To their credit, my children were not terrible, but they were hungry and they were sick of sitting around.

After what seemed like forever but was probably only a bit over an hour (which is in fact forever in when you're an embarrassed mother), I turned to the people at the table with me and appologized that I had to feed my kids. I had absolutely no idea where we were in the seder and whether we had said the prayer for the eggs or the matzah, but my kids just couldn't take it anymore! Meanwhile, I was trying to keep a strong façade but was feeling sad because not only was I not getting the warm fuzzy feeling I was hoping to get from the community seder, but my kids weren't even getting anything educational out of it. It was too quick and not at all on their level. I went home feeling sad.

When we finally left around 11:30 pm, Max had washed his hands at least 3 times and Suzanne had downed 2 eggs, a few sticks of celery and half my food. But I had met some more neighbors who promised to invite us next year.

I suppose my point to this post is twofold. First, if there are any other American Jews in Lille, please contact me. Second, religion means a lot of things to a lot of people. And what the synagogue in Lille has to offer is not what I'm looking for. So, I guess I'll have to do it myself.

For information, if you are in Lille and looking for the synagogue, you can find information by getting in touch with the Beit Chabbad.


Anonymous said...

Hello! It's Rachael, formerly of Lille. I'm so sorry the seder was difficult. I can't imagine my kids not eating for that long...

Have you thought about going up the road to Brussels to seek out community for the holidays? I thought there might be an American Jewish group in Brussels but I couldn't find one in a quick Google search. I did find these folks: http://www.cclj.be/ Lots of old folks but they do have a few things for kiddos.

Good luck! And I hope your kids are well.

Reb said...

Hi Rachael. nice to hear from you! I know Paris has lots of options for people like me. It would just be nice to find something closer to home.
I hope your family is well and you are enjoying your post-Lille life. How is boys' French coming along?

Anonymous said...

Hello, If you are still looking for a place to go for Passover next April 2016, contact IJC in Brussels. They have a lovely seder with people from many different countries. I think you can find their website on the internet. Good luck!

Laurie K said...

Hi! I'll be in Lille from the end of May through July, hoping to connect with some folks for Shabbat and Shavuot. I'll be staying in Vieux Lille. I live in Durham, NC, and when I go to synagogue, usually go to the conservative shut, since it's in my neighborhood, but I grew up pretty much in a do-it-yourself Jewish community. If you're still in Lille and looking to do something Jewish, or just meet up with another Jewish expat, let me know.

All Best,


Reb GroJo said...

Hi Laurie, Thanks for your comment ! I think that post in 2012 was the last time I stepped foot in the synagogue. But do let me know when you get here. I do what I can for the holidays...there's also a Massorti community in Lille. I haven't tried (yet?) because, frankly, going to services in someone's living room seems a bit sect-like but hey, maybe it'll work for you. http://etzhaimlille.wix.com/massortille hope to hear from you when you get to Lille. Will you be moving here permanently?

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