Jewish Paris cafe owner loses wife, friends in terror attack
Gregory Reibenberg is the major shareholder in La Belle Equipe, which was hit by IS gunmen; his wife Djamila died in his arms; the cafe’s Muslim manager was also killed
One of the cafes where Islamic State gunmen wreaked murder in Paris on Friday is owned by a Jewish man, and his wife was killed in the attack. So were friends of his from a Muslim family of Tunisian origin, one of whom was a minority shareholder and manager of the cafe.
The majority shareholder of La Belle Equipe sidewalk cafe, at the intersection of the 10th and 11th arrondissements, is Gregory Reibenberg.
Reibenberg and his wife were at the cafe, which was full of customers, when the terrorists opened fire at about 9.30 p.m. His wife Djamila Houd, died in his arms.
“I was holding her hand. We couldn’t revive her. We couldn’t do anything more,” Reibenberg told France-2 television. “She asked me to take care of our daughter, and I promised I would.”
Two other people who were murdered at the cafe were Halima Saadi Ndiaye and her sister Hodda Saadi. Their brother Khaled works at cafe. The family are French-born Muslims with Tunisian roots and relatives in Senegal.
Hodda Saadi also owned a share in La Belle Equipe and was its manager. The siblings often hung out there, sharing a glass or a meal.
According to Britain’s Daily Mail, 19 people were killed in the attack on the cafe, which it said was sprayed with automatic fire by two Islamic State gunmen.
Houd, who was born to a non-Jewish family of immigrants from Algeria, and Reibenberg, an Ashkenazi Jew, have an 8-year-old daughter, Tess.
On Sunday, Reibenberg led a mourning march with family members to the restaurant where Houd died.
Reibenberg told NRC that his daughter asked him whether it would be possible to undo what happened to her mother.
“I told her to think that her mother is up in the stars, and that she can talk to her there,” he said.
Born in the poor municipality of Dreux north of Paris, Houd was considered a symbol of success in her hometown, according to l’Echo Republicain daily. She owned a successful cafe near Bastille in Paris, according to Le Figaro.
In the days after the attacks, a volunteer trauma psychologist, Jean-Pierre Vouche, has been accompanying Reibenberg at all times, according to the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad. To cope with his grief and to help others, Reibenberg organized a meeting for relatives of the people who died at his restaurant.
“All of us lost someone — a friend, a spouse, a partner,” Reibenberg said. “I lost all of that, like many of you.”
Halima was celebrating her 36th birthday when the killers struck. Within a minute, she was dead. Within hours, her sister Hodda was, too. Khaled tried in vain to save them along with friends and other cafe patrons.
Eleven of the group of friends celebrating were reported killed in the attack.
“We are all inhabitants of this, people, and we need to fight for each other and help each other. There were black people, Arabs, Jews there. All of us were hit. So we are all in the same boat,” said another brother, Abdallah, who flew in from Tunisia to join his family as soon as he heard about the attacks.
“There were three birthdays, including my sister’s,” Khaled Saadi recounted, tears surfacing. Then, “they came and started shooting everyone inside and outside.”
“I lay on the ground on my stomach hoping to avoid the bullets,” he continued. “When I heard that there was no more shooting, I raised my head, but they started shooting again, so I hid again.”
After a minute that felt like eternity, the guns fell silent. He stood and found two of his sisters, along with friends and colleagues, in pools of blood.
“My first move was to look for my two sisters. So I found the first one, Halima Saadi. She died on the spot,” he said. “And my second sister Hodda, I tried to save her.
“I moved her with a friend of hers named Sam. We moved her to another restaurant nearby, and then we did the same for my other sister,” he said. They talked to Hodda, who was barely breathing, and assured her they were there.
Emergency services arrived within about 20 minutes but told him there was little hope. He later learned she died upon arrival at the hospital that treated some of the 350 people wounded in Friday’s attacks.
The sisters were close, even though Halima had moved to Senegal with her husband and two children, 3 and 6.
Portraits of Reibenberg’s wife Djamila, and Halima and Hodda Saadi hang on the window of the cafe, along with pictures of several other victims of France’s worst attack in decades. Candles, flowers and notes adorn the sidewalk.
The Saadi brothers said they don’t want the attacks to scare people away from the neighborhood they love for its multicultural cohesion.
“The people who do this, they kill Muslims, they kill everyone,” Abdallah Saadi said.