History of the Jewish community of La Rochelle
The Jewish presence in La Rochelle dates back to 1206, when Haym Ben Isaac mentions “La Rokillah”, which refers to the port city in Hebrew.
But, from the Renaissance until the French Revolution, because of the persecutions and the rejection that they undergo in a recurring way, the Jews of the South-west of France will flee the region. They will settle in Provence and a little further north in eastern France.
After the fall of royalty in 1790, the “republican” constituents proclaimed that “Jews have French citizenship”. Also, at the time of the first census carried out in France, in 1808, one will count 70 Jews in the department of Charente-Inferior (thus denominated until the second world war).
Beginning in 1930, fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe, Ashkenazi Jews came to seek refuge in Charente. Jean-Claude BONNIN in his book “The History of the Jews of La Rochelle”, deplore that 182 of them (the ¾ of their population) will be deported during a large raid throughout the department in 1942.
In 1945, the Officer Maurice KAMMOUN, native of Tlemcen in Algeria, settles in the port city in order to clear all the beaches of the Atlantic Coast. He is soon joined by his brother Isaac in 1947, very pious Sephardic Jew, he fully claims his Jewish faith and seeks to gather around him a community large enough to reach the minyan and be able to celebrate Shabbat.
Came the rush of 1962. The massive arrival of more than a million black feet in France makes that several Sephardic families settle in La Rochelle. These new Jews are delighted to discover Isaac’s back shop for the Shabbat prayer.
As for the Protestant friends, they graciously put at the disposal of the Jews of La Rochelle their room in the rue du Brave Rondeau for the organization of the Passover Seder and the Yom Kippur Fest! Any religious and festive occasion gives rise to gatherings at one and other: we share a couscous buttered, we invite everyone for a Brit Mila …
With the Six Day War in 1967, the trigger is immediate “It takes a community house to practice in good conditions that Judaism to which all are attached. The France-Israel Movement, largely supported by the mayor Michel CREPEAU, federate the handful of Jews wishing to acquire a local. The project becomes reality during the festivities of Tichri 5729 (September 1968). The MCI opens its doors at 40 Cours Wilson, which will be renamed later: Cours des Dames.
Its founders are Isaac KAMMOUN, Jacques CHEKROUN, André LEVY, Maurice DRUMLEWICK, Elie KORCHIA and Maurice BENBASSA. Created under the status of Association Loi 1901, from this opening, the MCI will welcome Jews and non-Jews, believers and non-believers, Sephardis and Ashkenazim. Located between Nantes and Bordeaux, its success attracts all the co-religionists of the two Charente, Southern Deux-Sèvres and South Vendée. More than 150 families will attend regularly. Thus, forty children of all ages will benefit from Tamuld-Thora classes, participate in Youth Movements and make their bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah in front of the Tebah of the 40th Ladies’ Course!
Many presidents, all dedicated to the maintenance and influence of the MCI will succeed: MM Maurice BENBASSA, YANA, Felix ZARKA, Charly KAMMOUN, Pierre GUEDJ, Jean-Claude TOUATI, and Charly KAMMOUN again since January 25, 2015
Over time, the premises become dilapidated, Charly KAMMOUN knocks on all doors to win: vote for approval of the project by the members at a General Assembly in February 2016, donations, prefectural and municipal agreements, long records administrative and technical … After this long obstacle course, the new MCI, now located at 34, Cours des Dames finally opens its doors on December 2, 2017, 50 years after the implementation of the steps for the opening of the first MCI in La Rochelle!
For the inauguration ceremony more than 300 guests discover a modern space dedicated to prayer and cultural encounters. Special guests are honored by their presence, such as the Grand Rabbin de France Haim KORSIA, the deputy Olivier FALORNI, the Prefect of the Department, the President of the Israelite Community of Bordeaux, M AOUIZERATE.
The MCI is not only a place of prayer, it is also a space for interreligious meetings and “laic discoveries”! Indeed, it is open to the public during “les Journées du Patrimoine” organized in September by the City Council.
During his inauguration, the Rochelais artist Michel GARDES, a childhood friend of Charles KAMMOUN, agrees to paint the Biblical liturgy. By this gift, the artist will seal his friendship of sixty years and pay tribute to his father Franck GARDES, resistant under the Occupation, and his Jewish friend Philippe KOENIGSWERTHER; deported both to the Struthof camp in Alsace, they were executed there by the Nazis on September 2, 1944.
At 34, Cours des Dames, the minyane is ensured during each Shabbat, all the feasts are celebrated there, speakers intervene and attract a large public of believers, non-believers and laymen!
The MCI thus keeps its flame thanks to the volunteers of all those who have at heart to live their Judaism in France and … in La Rochelle!