Soon after the conclusion of the Jewish Sabbath, thousands gathered at a mournful prayer vigil in front of the Hyper Cacher supermarket in the Porte de Vincennes area of Paris, where four Jewish men were killed by a terrorist on Friday. A shaken French Jewish community prepared for the victims’ burial amid growing anxiety for the safety of Jews there.

The victims were identified as Yoav Hattab, 21; Yohan Cohen, 22; Philippe Braham, 40; and François-Michel Saada, 64. All were killed during a four-hour hostage siege that French President François Hollande called “a horrific anti-Semitic crime.”

Hattab was the son of Rabbi Binyamin Batu Hattab, rabbi of the Grande Synagogue in Tunis and director of the Yeshivah Oholei Yosef Yitzchak Lubavitch school there.

Cohen, from the northern suburbs of Paris, had a job working at the kosher market, apparently to help pay for his future wedding.

Braham was a teacher with a wife and four children. One of his sons studies at a Jewish day school run by Chabad of Montrouge, a community in the southern Parisian suburbs. Rabbi David and Hava Mimoun, co-directors of Chabad of Montrouge, spent Shabbat comforting the family.

Saada was a pension-fund manager who entered the store right before closing time to pick up a challah for Shabbat.

After the police stormed the supermarket, killing the gunman and freeing the hostages, it became clear that more than 20 shoppers and employees had been held captive, including a number of them who secretly huddled together for hours in refrigerated rooms in the store’s basement.

The hostage crisis ended just before the onset of the Sabbath. Chabad synagogues remained open during Shabbat amid heavy police presence, according to Chabad Rabbi Chmouel Lubecki. Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries offered words of comfort, consolation and hope throughout the day, as well as prayers for the recovery of four hostages who were seriously wounded in the attack. The names of the hospitalized have not been released by authorities.

Yohan Cohen
Yohan Cohen

Rabbi Emmanuel Mergui, editor of, attended services at the Beis Haya Mouchka synagogue with his children, and reported that it was packed as usual. “There was very heavy security in front of the shuls, with metal barriers, police with rifles and bulletproof vests, and the police appeared to be very nervous,” he said.

He added that the atmosphere was very tight in the neighborhood, with a heavy police presence patrolling in vans and unmarked cars; sirens could be heard throughout the day. At the end of Shabbat, said Mergui, helicopters were still hovering above the 19th arrondissement.

Attack Began During Shabbat Shopping

The attack began on Friday afternoon, when many Jewish people were out shopping for Shabbat. Immediately, there were widespread calls for prayers, acts of kindness and the recitation of Tehillim (Psalms), particularly Psalm 20, on behalf of the hostages.

Lubecki reported that he and other Chabad representatives all over Paris had sent SMS messages to thousands of members of the Jewish community, encouraging them to light Shabbat candles and give extra charity in merit of the hostages.

There was widespread outreach to individuals as well. Before the onset of Shabbat, Chabad Rabbi Yisroel Lubecki of Beth Loubavitch Paris visited a wounded man who had escaped the shop and brought him fresh challah. The wounded man’s wife also lit Shabbat candles.

Concurrently, Chabad on Campus rabbis in Paris arranged a large Shabbat meal in the Jardin du Luxembourg area for students. Hundreds attended the event, which was coordinated with police.

Meanwhile, in Jewish communities all over the globe, ad hoc prayer gatherings formed. As far away as Glastonbury, Conn., Rabbi Yosef Wolvovsky of the Benet Rothstein Chabad Jewish Center invited his congregants to join a conference call that included prayer, Torah study and charity.