The Pletzel is the Center of Jewish Life in France

Kosher variety store
Kosher variety store | Larger

More than 50 percent of France's Jews, some 700,000 of them, live in Paris. The city has nearly 100 kosher restaurants, dozens of synagogues and numerous neighborhood shops with Jewish artifacts and books. The city also has Jewish museums and a Jewish Documentation Center.

Most of the Jewish establishments in Paris are located in the Pletzel. Here you will find shops offering discounts on fashion and beauty products, kosher restaurants, butcher shops and bakeries.

The Pletzel is located on the site of the 13th century ghetto of Paris, known as the Juiverie. The most well known street is the rue des Rosiers, the street of rose trees, once called "the street of the Jews."

Jews first settled in the Pletzel in the 11th century. They have lived and worked for many centuries on the narrow streets of the Pletzel.

Kosher market
Kosher market | Larger

I visited the Pletzel with Rachel Kaplan, a journalist, who also operates a personalized tourism service in Paris. Kaplan is an American in Paris who enjoys taking tourists to the Jewish sections and explaining Jewish history to them. Her tourism service is called French Links. For more information about her tours, call 011-33-1-43-91-59.

The French Jewish community is the third largest Jewish community outside of Israel and the fourth largest Jewish community in the world. There are French Jewish newspapers, magazines, and even Jewish radio networks. France has dozens of Jewish day schools and numerous community centers featuring Jewish classes, lectures, clubs and folk dancing. You can get Kosher Pizza in the Jewish section and kosher pastries galore and fresh hot French kosher bread. There are even kosher Chinese restaurants in The Pletzel.

Kosher bakery
Kosher bakery | Larger

There has always been a Jewish presence in France. Jews lived in many sections of France before these areas were part of the nation. They camped with the Romans on the banks of the Gaul. They traversed the great trade routes of the country.

From the days of the Kings of France and Napoleon, the Jewish community of France has contributed to the cultural riches of its writers, scientists, historians, philosophers and Nobel prize winners.

Many Jews have achieved fame in France. In art, great names include Pissaro, Soutine, Bonheur, Pascin, Chagall and Modigliani. In literature and humanities, Nobel Prize winners were Henri Bergson and Rene Cassin. In finance, the Rothschilds contributed the country's economic life. In government, three French Prime Ministers, Leon Blum, Rene Mayer and Pierre Mendes-France led the nation. Simone Veil served as president of the European community.

Ben Frank, author of A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe, an excellent resource book for those planning to travel to Europe, writes that the course of Jewish history was changed in Paris.

Street scene in Paris
Street scene in Paris

"It was here at 37 rue Cambon in Paris, that Theodore Herzl wrote, The Jewish State, the book that rallied the Jewish people to establish the State of Israel," Frank wrote in his book.

France also has the distinction of being the first European nation to grant citizenship to its Jewish inhabitants. Air France publishes an excellent free guide called France for the Jewish Traveler, which contains a history of the Jewish community in France and addresses and phone numbers of Jewish institutions.

Paris is an exciting city with many tourist attractions including art galleries and museums, but be careful crossing the street as the cars come and go in numerous directions at a rapid speed.

For superb entertainment, I highly recommend the multi-million dollar Lido de Paris. The Lido seats 1,200, making it Europe's largest nightclub. Similar to the lavish extravaganzas in Las Vegas, the show has eye-popping special effects, showgirls in fabulous costumes, many topless, with outrageous hats and gowns. A dinner show and a late show are performed 365 days a year.

Outdoor flower shops in Paris
Outdoor flower shops in Paris | Larger

The Parisians love flowers. As you stroll down the avenues in Paris take time to smell the flowers beautifully displayed along the streets.

I stayed at the Hotel Le Crillon in Paris. The hotel was designed as a palace by Louis XV and is located between the Champs-Elysees and the Tuileries Gardens on the Place de la Concorde. It is within walking distance from many of the city's famous museums and attractions. The Le Crillon has 163 rooms and suites and master suites. All of the beds are decked in silk and satin. Furnishings are 18th century, but service is modern and without equal.

From the marble lobby to the elegantly appointed rooms, the Le Crillon is first class in every respect. Long owned by the family of thee Counts of Crillon, the mansion became a Palace Hotel in 1909. Since then it has been the choice residence for world leaders. Among their former guests were: Emperor Hirohito, King George V of England, Queen Sophia of Spain, Presidents, Herbert Hoover, Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Nixon , Bill Clinton and it was also the hotel the late Princess Diana stayed in just before her accidental death in Paris.