Listen to Lillian Thuram
Looking at the political choices facing voters in France, today, I’m glad I’m not French — although I guess I would be if the Catholic Church hadn’t driven France’s Jews out in the 14th century, starting my family on its way to Poland where Caron became Karon to keep the pronunciation. Still a Francophile of sorts, and still have family there — my father’s cousin Adam, who survived the Holocaust in Poland being hidden by Catholics from the Nazis, ended up living in Paris in 1945, and still does. Ariel Sharon doesn’t think France’s Jews belong in France, and that’s always been the Zionist position (and, of course, that of the anti-Semites) since Theodore Herzl attended the Dreyfuss trial in 1895, and declared it “futile” to try and combat anti-Semitism.
Of course, I could never agree with this; Jews are historically part of France, as we are historically part of many parts of Europe, and anyone who denies that, whether anti-Semite or Zionist, can go… Well, okay, let’s not get rude. We’ll leave that to Monsieur ‘orrible.
And it’s in affirmation of this principle, and my sheer love of Jews who laugh in the face of and give the finger to anti-Semitism and associated right-wing pretensions, that I put the legendary Serge Gainsbourg on the list my 50 most influential rabbis:
Here’s the citation:
5. Serge Gainsbourg
No pop-cultural icon ever rattled France as much as Serge Gainsbourg did, from the moment he burst into notoriety in 1969 with the heavy breathing “Je T’Aime,” the favorite Barmitzvah party slowdance of my era. The French establishment, not exactly the most philo-Semitic bunch, loathed Gainsbourg for his chutzpah, a vaguely ugly Jew who didn’t give a crap about exposing their pretenses and hypocrisies. And why should he? He’d had to wear the yellow star during the Nazi occupation, and he saw just how “courageous” his neighbors had been in standing up to the Nazis (contra the Gaullist myth that all or most of France had been with the Resistance). And if they had a problem with his aesthetic provocations, he wasn’t about to make them feel comfortable. Gainsbourg cut and mixed and mashed, lampooning Frenchness and its denied but nonetheless palpable fascination with America, and committed the ultimate patriotic sin of recording a reggae version of Le Marseillaise (“Aux Armes, Etc.” — Click here to hear it — that’s Rita Marley doing backing vocals…) mocking French jingoism. Naturally, the French establishment plotzed. That was the idea. And let’s not even talk about the Whitney Houston encounter
On Sunday’s election, I know the choices are grim. But I was moved recently by the news reports of a black policeman in France putting his own life on the line to rescue a Jewish football fan being attacked by a neo-Nazi mob in Paris. And that’s why I’d urge all those justifiably impressed by Nicolas Sarkozy’s promises to loosen the bureaucratic stranglehold on France’s sclerotic economy to carefully consider the warnings by Lillian Thuram, hero of the 1998 World Cup winning French team, that Sarkozy is a racist who France cannot embrace.