We arrived in Paris on Friday with a few hours before Shabbat. We raced to K Market, a kosher food store, and got all kinds of food for the week, but there were no challot left, and no roasted chickens that were not accounted for.
We did our best.
I went in search of challot for my mother, who wouldn't be walking with us to one of Paris' Lubavitch Jewish centers on Shabbat day. Oy, I was wandering around Paris with no clue where I could find challot for my Mama. Suddenly, I saw a young man with a black kippah and a gemora. "Help!" I told him we had no challot, and he kindly arranged for someone to drop off challot to our hotel room before Shabbat. Was that amazing, or what?
He also invited my mother, a total stranger, for lunch on Shabbat. He and his wife were so sweet. They said, "How many are you? You can all come." When I told him it was very doubtful that my mother would come to lunch by him without me, and that I had a prior arrangement, he asked me in Hebrew, how to say, "Please join us for lunch on Shabbat," and he wrote my mother a note and signed his name. I was very moved by his kindness.
Meanwhile, my sister had made reservations for us to eat at Lubavitch of the Champs Elysee. That was a real adventure. We had to go to a certain address and say quietly to the doorman, "Lubavitch." Then we were ushered in through a building to a back staircase that led to the shul. It was as if the 1920s and Prohibition were here again, and I gave a secret knock at the door and said, "Joe sent me."
What a way for French Jewry to live.
It was not just Lubavitch. The synagogue near our hotel was behind a non-descript door. There was no sign, "Bet Knesset Anything," although there was a quiet mezuzah on the door - the first mezuzah I had seen since I left home.
(For the past two weeks, every time I have walked out of a room, I have put my right hand up, but there has been nothing to kiss. I was so excited that I finally had a mezuzah that I could kiss. Swak.)
Parisian Jews and guests here often wear baseball caps on their heads and keep a low profile. They are absolutely sweet and kind and excited when they see another Jew, but perhaps if you have to be so secretive about your Jewish life, it's time to move somewhere you can be a Jew out in the open.
Lubavitch of Champs Elysee
The Chabad shul on the elegant Champs Elysee brought together Jews from all over the world this past Shabbat, and probably every Shabbat. Davening was very nice, and dinner was delicious. After the divrei Torah and before dessert, Rav Yonah asked everyone to say where they were from. Sao Paolo, Montreal, Newcastle, Baltimore, Wellington, Long Island, Paris, Kiryat Ata, and Gush Etzion. (Gush Etzion got applause. :) )
The conversations at every meal were interesting, and everyone felt great about spending Shabbat with fellow Jews.
We went to Mincha right near our hotel. About 20 women were listening to a shiur in French about the weekly Torah portion. We listened and tried to absorb something. I got the word, "coeur" (heart) and that was about it. We were invited to Seuda Shlishit, and the women were absolutely lovely. They spoke French, Hebrew and English.
We met the woman who had brought us challot (even before she knew us) and the wife of David (who had invited us to lunch).
We stayed for Havdala, which was made by the Baba Sali's grandson, HaRav Tourgeman from Jerusalem. Shabbat ended at 11:02 PM in Paris. How do they hold out so long until the end of Shabbat? (Another good reason to move to Israel - you don't have to stay up so late.)