When I am in Paris, I always stay in Belleville, the 19e or 20e. I stay in a different part each year and as a result see and learn different things. This year, I’m near the Pyrénées metro stop, close to Parc de Belleville. I’m really at the crossroads of the vast variety of cultures that make up Belleville–Chinese, African, French, North African, Middle Eastern. Some parts of Belleville are posh and lovely, others rough and tumble but fascinating and vibrant.
Yesterday, after a pleasant vegan lunch at the belvedere of Parc de Belleville, I found an old synagogue right by the park. My lunch partner and I had seen some Orthodox Jews, dressed in formal wedding attire, going through the belvedere while we were eating and talking. I recalled that there was a synagogue somewhere near the park. After lunch, I went to find it.
I was sorry the synagogue was closed. I would have liked to see the inside. The building is fairly large and I think the synagogue is well-attended, from what I can find on the internet. It is called Synagogue Rabbi Itshak Hai Taïeb lo-met after a 19th century Tunisian rabbi who was a saint and kabbalah expert.
Rabbi Hai Taïeb had prophetic vision, was known to have performed miracles from an early age, and had numerous followers. He wrote over forty books, all but one of which burned up in a fire. After his passing, he came to the engraver of his tombstone in a dream and chastened him for applying the term ‘dead’. The engraver then added the word ‘not’ to make ‘not dead’ (Hebrew, ‘lo met’). Hence the synagogue’s long name, ‘Synagogue Rabbi Itshak Hai Taïeb not dead’.
There are many stories about him. One has to do with his love of the popular Tunisian drink, Boukha. Boukha is made by distilling figs. It was invented by Avraham Bokobsa. Tunisian Jews were only allowed to lend money, work on clothes or make wine. Bokobsa needed wine for Shabbat and so distilled some figs and created Boukha. I had some Boukha Bokobsa just last week on Boulevard Belleville at a Tunisian Jewish restaurant, René and Gabin. It came in all tall frosted glass with slivers of ice.
The jist of the story about the rabbi and Boukha is that in his older years the rabbi loved Boukha but he was prohibited from drinking it. He went to deliver a sermon one day and no words came out of his mouth. The idea being? No Boukha, no sermons.
Who knows what other tales there are in the streets of Belleville. Here are a few photos of the area right near the synagogue, each one itself suggesting stories.