But among Jews in Ris-Orangis and elsewhere in France, tolerance is a scarce commodity these days.
Ever since a 23-year-old Jew named Ilan Halimi was dumped -- stabbed, handcuffed, naked and dying -- near a railway line outside Paris on Feb. 13, many Jews say anti-Semitism is resurging in France.
"The Jewish community today is experiencing a time of fear," said Michel Serfaty, rabbi of the conservative Ris-Orangis synagogue. "Without doubt, this assassination will make some Jews conclude they have no reason to stay in France -- that they must leave, because France is Islamicizing."
Jewish organizations and anti-racist groups hope thousands will turn out today for a huge rally against racism. On Thursday, French President Jacques Chirac and other high-level dignitaries attended a packed memorial service in Paris for Halimi.
Police have questioned at least 16 people in connection with the kidnapping and torture of the telephone salesman, who was apparently held by a gang calling itself "The Barbarians" in a housing project outside the capital. Police also seized papers allegedly attesting to the gang's support of fundamentalist Islam and Palestinian causes.
Meanwhile, presumed gang leader Youssouf Fofana, captured in Ivory Coast, has given conflicting testimony about his involvement in Halimi's abduction.
The torture and killing of Halimi once again casts a bleak spotlight on the tattered housing projects ringing French cities that erupted in riots last fall. And while many gang members appear to come from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds, this killing has taken a raw, racist edge.
After initially remaining silent about Halimi's religion, French authorities now admit he was kidnapped partly because he was Jewish. "Jews have money," said Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, explaining the thinking of the kidnappers, who first tried to extort money from Halimi's family.
In conversations in Ris-Orangis and elsewhere, Jews say they have notched up their habitual wariness. Men think twice before venturing outdoors wearing skullcaps and prayer shawls. Children are forbidden to take subways from train stations in rough neighborhoods.
"This kind of murder is not normal. We're in France, not in an Arab country where we should be afraid," said Simone Rouche, picking up her two children from a Jewish school in the nearby suburb of Savigny-sur-Orge. Like many Jewish buildings in France, the school is wrapped by a high security fence.
For Rouche and others, Halimi's death is the most violent episode yet in several years of surging anti-Semitism. Largely staged by ethnic Muslim youths, the attacks and racial slurs against French Jews kept pace with the spiraling violence in the Middle East -- prompting Israel's deputy foreign minister, Michael Melchior, to label France in 2003 as the most anti-Semitic country in the West.
The French government's tough response has helped reduce the number of anti-Semitic incidents in recent months -- but not the sense of insecurity.
"Certain gangs are making the laws in these suburbs," said Moshe Cohen Saban, a Jewish community leader for the Val d'Oise region outside Paris. "It may not specifically be anti-Semitism, but it's gangsterism targeting Jews."
At Ris-Orangis, a 20-minute subway ride from Paris, Rabbi Serfaty is the first to admit that relations between France's estimated 600,000 Jews and 6 million Muslims -- Europe's largest Islamic and Jewish communities -- is uneasy at best. Although most Jews are ethnic North Africans, as are most Muslims here, memories of their shared heritage is fading rapidly.
Indeed, Serfaty himself was attacked by two young Muslims in 2003.
"For Jews and Muslims of my generation, who immigrated from North Africa, the relationship is easy," said Serfaty, who arrived in France from his native Morocco in 1963. "It's not the same with the younger generation. On both sides -- Jews and Muslims -- the tendency is to fold into themselves. The only difference is the Jews aren't the aggressors."
For the past decade, Serfaty has been organizing youth trips to old Jewish ghettos and concentration camps in Poland. Many of the youngsters attending are French Muslims. Last summer, he organized a bus tour around France to build ties between the two faiths.
"There wasn't a single day that I didn't hear an anti-Semitic remark," Serfaty said of his conversations with the youths during that trip. "Theirs is not an anti-Semitism of ideology. It's the idea that Jews are rich, they have power, they dominate."
Some experts agree that Jews such as Halimi, an ethnic Moroccan, are singled out partly because they have done well in France.
"Today, they're seen as those who have succeeded in their integration, who are at the heart of the nation, of institutions, of society," French sociologist Michel Wieviorka told Le Monde newspaper. "And those (mostly Muslim immigrants) who detest them are making them pay for their own exclusion."
Meanwhile, some Jews are building their own barriers. Enrollment in Jewish schools in France has soared in recent years. So has aliya -- emigration to Israel.
Some 3,000 Jews headed there last year -- the highest number in 30 years, according to David Roche, European general director for the Jewish Agency for Israel, which encourages immigration.
"The aliya is one of choice, not one of distress," said Roche, listing a number of factors including the uptick in Israel's economy to explain the growing numbers. Nonetheless, he added, "you can't ignore the fact that people who are personally attacked make decisions as well."
At Ris-Orangis, 35-year-old Elia Ktourza says she has contemplated emigrating -- not to Israel, where her family might face new threats posed by the recent election victory of the radical Palestinian group Hamas -- but to North America.
"If I leave France with my family because of security concerns," said Ktourza, a mother of three, "it's so we can have a normal life. Not so we feel more insecure than before."
©2006 San Francisco Chronicle