Gary Snyder chose to mark his 70th birthday in March by traveling to Paris to mark the 57th anniversary of becoming a bar mitzvah.
The Greenberg Traurig senior partner’s fiancée, Ellen Monk, scoured the Internet to find a friendly synagogue that would allow Snyder to deliver the d’var Torah.
On March 18, Gavriel Ben Shmuel addressed La Synagogue Franco Americain de Paris on Parshat Ki Tisa. He recounted Moses’ experience with the tablets of the Ten Commandments and our role as the chosen people.
He discussed his early years in Dayton, Ohio, which provided his springboard for living a Jewish life, as well as sending his daughters to Jewish day school and volunteering for the Jewish community in Atlanta.
Snyder’s speech started with “Bon jour, boker tov,” and ended, “My hope today is for the Jewish people to continue to embrace the historic recognition given to us at Mount Sinai and to live in peace among all the peoples of the world.”
Rabbi Tom Cohen said, “It was a real pleasure having Gary come up to the Torah and share his thoughts on the parasha and what it means to him to be Jewish. He movingly related the importance of Judaism, being a source (and force) for his activism and desire to effectuate positive change in this world. And though not all of the community is fluent in English, the emotions he transmitted through his obvious love of Judaism touched the hearts of even my ‘only French-speaking’ members, in addition to the bilingual and English-speaking faithful. For us at Kehilat Gesher (mostly ex-pats), it is important to open up our doors to Jews around the world and help them find a welcoming and tolerant home in Paris.”
Snyder said he felt safe wandering the streets of Paris as a tourist, but he noticed that the synagogue was marked only with a street address — no outside signs of Judaica or Hebrew letters as in the United States.