“Oh, great, so what’s it gonna be … matzo and cupcakes?”

BY LAUREN KAWAM

This was sarcastically and rather crassly uttered by one of my fellow trip mates, Jim King, as we hear that we’re traveling to the gay and Jewish section of Paris on our first full day in the city.

We break into two groups so as to not intimidate the Parisians as we approach them for possible interviews. No one really knew what to expect as we went on a walk about through Le Marais (pronounced “luh maray”).

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Walking down the streets of the trendy and spirited neighborhood, you’ll see an overwhelming number of gay and Jewish people. In fact, this part of the City of Love is known as the spot where these two groups of people live, work and play.

As you walk farther into this neighborhood, you’re inundated with men yelling after you that they “have got the best falafel in the world.” I must have heard that about five times, so really, I couldn’t determine whose really was the best. I didn’t try any, so I really can’t speak to whose was better, although I promised just about all of them I would come back and try.

We tried to speak to one young boy, who after a conversation in broken English, told us he was a 17-year-old high school student and didn’t really know anything about gay people. Strike one.

We walked for about half an hour, winding down the streets, making mental notes of shops we wanted to go into after the reporting was done. To be honest, the language barrier is quite intimidating. As an aside, I bought a can of Coke and just handed the woman a 20 euro note and hoped  she would give me correct change. Strike two.

We stumbled upon a synagogue where a woman was more than willing to give us a tour. It was only about 800 or 900 square feet, so it wasn’t that hard for her to show us around. But she was an older woman. I’m not sure how old because when we asked her (through our gracious translator/student ambassador Gabe, mind you) her age, she simply said  she has lived in this place her whole life.I think she had only one good, straight-staring, working eye to look at us with.  Gabe said  he thought she wasn’t all there mentally. Strike three.

Just when we thought we wouldn’t get anywhere and had basically lost all hope of finding someone to speak with us about the Jewish/gay integration is Le Marais, we met an English-speaking rabbi named Rafeal. He spoke with us about the gay community and how, while being gay isn’t accepted at all according to the written word of Judaism, it still happens. “There are gay and lesbian people that are still Jewish,” he said. “But it’s secret. They don’t talk about it.”

That was sort of disheartening, especially coming from a place where gay people are relatively widely accepted and often celebrated.

We also visited the Holocaust Memorial. We wandered the halls, mostly looking at photos illustrating the history, because the signs, audio and videos were all in French.

We struck out thrice but finally got to speak with someone who was pretty cavalier about the whole topic of being gay and Jewish.

Walking around for the major portion of the day and almost not finding anyone willing –or able — to speak with us bummed me out. Then, serendipitously, Rabbi Rafeal came into the picture. That made me feel good.

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2 Responses to “Oh, great, so what’s it gonna be … matzo and cupcakes?”

  1. Dr Bill Silcock says:

    The life of a foreign correspondent tackling a tough but fascinating topic isn’t easy. But fascinating to think about how two cultures who often are stereotyped — Jews and Gay — can so exist in the same neighborhood. Diversity surely is alive and well in Paris.

  2. cschwalbe says:

    It’s a challenge reporting in another culture, especially one where people speak a different language. But the payoffs are great!

    Keep these lessons in mind when you report about other cultures back home.

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