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No. 171: The Jewish Quarter

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One of the great things about living in a big city like Paris is the easy access to diverse cultures and heritage. Yesterday I had the pleasure of wondering through the Marais, the city’s most famous and lively Jewish neighborhood, with my lovely friend Emily. The Marais, known as the Pletzl, or “little Place” in Yiddish, has been home to Jews on and off since the thirteenth century. Today although many trendy and expensive fashion boutiques have moved into the quarter, it is still heavily Jewish and has maintained many of the original Jewish establishments from the nineteenth century and earlier.

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Yesterday was Purim, the jubilant celebration of the deliverance of the Jews from the nefarious Haman by Queen Esther and Mordecai. There is a lot more to Purim than meets the eye, but it was fun to get caught up in the carnival-like atmosphere of the day. Sometime (incorrectly) referred to by non-Jews as the “Jewish Mardi Gras”, children and adults were decked out in disguises, scholars were reciting the Megillah (Scroll of Esther) in the streets, synagogues and prayer rooms, visitors and residents were exchanging gifts of special holiday delicacies, and money was happily shared with those less fortunate. It was a special treat to experience and learn more about Purim with Emily and participate in her holiday.

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Although Superman is Jewish by identity, I was raised in a liberal Catholic church, and it sometimes falls to la maman to carry-on the traditions of both religions in our household. So I was very grateful to talk with the enthusiastic young orthodox Jews about the meaning of their celebration and their faith and to learn about some of their rituals and, of course, their festival foods, particularly the hamantaschen.

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I absolutely adore these one-off experiences in Paris. It is such a blessing to, so to speak, have the world at my doorstep, and just one more thing to love about my France.

Vocabulaire

Hamantaschen: a triangular, filled pastry served on Purim. The word hamantaschen is derived from two German words: mohn (poppy seed) and taschen (pockets). Mohntaschen is German for “poppy seed pockets”, a popular German pastry. Hamantaschen means “Haman’s pockets”, as in the evil Haman. There are several explanations as to why the Hamantaschen are three-cornered pastry:

  • the evil Haman’s pockets were triangular and filled with bribe money,
  • Haman wore a three-cornered hat, and eating Haman’s hat is a way to symbolically destroy his memory, and,
  • finally, in Queen Esther’s story, she describes Haman bent over and covered with shame, and humiliated (literally with clipped ears). The three-cornered hamantaschen are symbolic of Haman’s clipped ears. In Hebrew, hamantaschen are called Oznay Haman, which means Haman’s ears. This is the explanation we were given yesterday.
13 Comments Post a comment
  1. bigjewonadiet #

    Love this! Check out my healthy hamantaschen 🙂
    http://bigjewonadiet.com/2014/03/17/healthy-hamantaschen-get-your-tash-on/

    March 17, 2014
  2. Sarah Larson #

    The Marais is one of my favorite areas in Paris…. I love the feel of the streets, cafes, and shops. I have a photo of the yellow building (the Sasha F. store) on my desk…so fun to see it in your blog!

    March 19, 2014
    • Yes. It’s a cultural gem. Unfortunately it’s becoming a bit too chichi–all sorts of upscale boutiques taking over the older establishments. I wish the whole area would be declared a historical area, so all the new stores couldn’t come in. Still there’s always something interesting going on and bien sûr, it’s the best place for Israeli falafel.

      March 19, 2014
  3. We’ve definitely added this to our “must-visit” list 🙂

    March 26, 2014
    • The Marais is great. Best to go on a weekday and not a weekend. Don’t forget that many of the businesses celebrate Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) from sundown on Friday to nightfall of Saturday and are closed then.

      March 26, 2014
  4. I will have to visit this area of Paris. Thank you…..

    March 27, 2014
    • It’s a very interesting part of Paris (bit pricey), but has a lot of character and, of course, history. Look for another post next week on the food in the Marais…lots of “must-haves” food wise there.

      March 27, 2014
  5. The best falafel I’ve ever had! A revelation.

    March 31, 2014
    • They are even better than falafel in Israel, à mon avis. Thanks for stopping by.

      March 31, 2014
      • Yes, I have heard others say so as well. Paris has much amazing cuisine to offer, but the falafel is unforgettable, and inexpensive.

        March 31, 2014

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