Nice’s Jewish community decided to hold Shabbat activities as planned despite the slaying of dozens of people in the city in southern France, in what French President Francois Hollande said was a terrorist attack directed at revellers celebrating the country’s national day.
The attack was carried out by a 30-year-old man who drove a rented white truck through a crowded promenade in the coastal resort city of Nice on Thursday night shortly after the annual firework show on Bastille Day, BFMTV reported. He may have had accomplices who participated in the attack itself, the channel reported.
“We will not let this affect us, we will not let fear affect or damage the life of our community, just as France will not let fear of terrorism change it,” Yossef Yitschok Pinson, the rabbi of Nice’s Chabad House, told JTA Friday. Synagogue services and community events will go on as planned, he said.
In addition to the fatalities, the attack resulted in severe injuries to at least 18 people and a few other people were lightly wounded. The identities of the victims have not yet been made known. At least five of the wounded are Jews, according to Pinson. French media reported that the death toll was higher than 50 and possibly as high as 80 people.
“The truck left a trail of blood as it tore through the crowd,” said Pinson based on eye-witness testimonies. One witness to the attack was “deeply traumatized by what she saw,” he said. “Body parts, people screaming, blood everywhere and very, very difficult sights.” Unlike Paris, Nice had never seen a terrorist attack of the scale witnessed Thursday. “Although it is part of the reality of life in France that something like this can happen, it is shocking to see it in Nice,” Pinson added.
The driver, who has a criminal record involving violence but not terrorism, barrelled through the crowd that had gathered on the Promenade des Anglais to watch the show, according to the BFMTV television channel.
Hollande said that an “attack with terrorist characteristics cannot be denied.” He added that France’s state of emergency, declared in November following a lethal series of terrorist attacks in Paris, may be extended and that some army reservists may be drafted. The driver, who fired a gun into the crowd, was killed by return fire. His name was not immediately released.
Nice, which is located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is an international tourist destination that also draws hundreds of thousands of local French tourists in summer, including many European Jews who come to Nice because it has a permanent Jewish population of 25,000 with kosher shops and synagogues, in addition to the Chabad House.
But the summer crowd has not yet arrived, Pinson, the rabbi, told JTA. “They usually come in August, then there are far more Jews in town,” he said.