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After Terrorist Attacks Stun France, Scores Turn Out For March

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's turn now to France. Millions took to the streets in anger and solidarity yesterday after Islamist radicals killed 17 people. Those attacks last week stunned the country, but for French Jews it was nothing new. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Paris. They expressed outrage over attacks on a satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, and a kosher supermarket. In France, this was a first - journalists targeted and killed in a terrorist attack. But it's not the first time it's happened to French Jews.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION AND APPLAUSE)

BEARDSLEY: President Francois Hollande and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were applauded when they went to Paris's main synagogue after the march. The two leaders attended a ceremony for the four Jewish hostages killed in the kosher store. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has tried to reassure French Jews this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER MANUEL VALLS: (Through interpreter) Do not be afraid, do not be afraid to be Jewish. We are all policemen. We are all journalists. And the cry that resounds across France is that we are all the Jews of France.

BEARDSLEY: In 2012, another Islamist extremist killed three Jewish schoolchildren and a teacher in the southern city of Toulouse. In 2007, a young, Jewish man was kidnapped, tortured and killed by a group of thugs calling itself the Gang of Barbarians.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Sunday night, French television profiled the four men killed in the kosher market - a father of three, a young man engaged to be married. Wives, daughters and fathers gave wrenching testimony to the victims' generosity and courage.

An overflow crowd stood outside the synagogue during the memorial service. Twenty-year-old engineering student Raphael Lasseri says the reaction to the attacks has been overwhelming and given him hope.

RAPHAEL LASSERI: We believe that most of the people in France are on the side of the Jewish community and want to defend all of the Jewish people of France because we are citizens. The problem is that the state will do everything that it can, but the main problem is that, will it be enough to really protect everyone?

BEARDSLEY: France has the world's largest Jewish population after the U.S. and Israel. But growing numbers of French Jews have been leaving the country citing increasing anti-Semitism. Last week's attack did nothing to help the situation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN)

BEARDSLEY: But Rudy Sitbon is defiant. He was out on the street wearing his skullcap or kippa while the hostage drama was still unfolding Friday at the kosher market.

RUDY SITBON: I'm with my kippa to tell to the terrorists, I don't afraid about you. I stay in France because my family was here. I work here. Perhaps I will go in Israel in a few years. I don't know. But now I'm here. I'm French, I'm Jewish and proud.

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 12, 2015 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous audio version of this story misidentified a 20-year-old engineering student quoted at a memorial service. His name is Raphael Lasseri, not Philippe Braham.