Yael Haccoun and her family are Orthodox Jews from the working-class Paris suburb of Sarcelles, but they flew to Israel in late September to start a new life and escape the anti-Semitism around them.
“And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.” Ezekiel 34:13 (KJV)
“French people think that it’s natural when Jews are targeted” in terror attacks, said Haccoun, 33, as she waited with her husband and their three children here at the airport. “The fact that the army must protect Jewish schools and synagogues isn’t normal.”
She said her family watched in horror in July 2014 as a demonstration protesting Israel’s war with Hamas turned into an anti-Semitic rampage. Dozens of young men chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ in Arabic and “death to the Jews” attacked Jewish-owned businesses with clubs and fire bombs.
Why 10,000 French Jews Will Move to Israel This Year:
The number of French Jews immigrating to Israel rose from 1,900 in 2011 to nearly 8,000 last year, said Jacques Canet, president of La Victoire, the great synagogue of Paris. He said the country’s 500,000 to 600,000 French Jews — the third largest Jewish population in the world — “feel threatened.”
“Increasingly, Jews in Paris, Marseilles, Toulouse, Sarcelles feel they can’t safely wear a kippah (yarmulke, or skull cap) outside their homes or send their children to public schools, where Muslim children bully Jewish children,” Canet said.
A poll by the French Institute of Public Opinion in January showed 43% of France’s Jewish Community are considering a move to Israel, and 51% said they have “been threatened” because they are Jewish.
Those with enough money have moved to more upscale areas within France or to Canada, England or the United States, Canet said. The wealthy, staunch Zionists and those who can’t afford to send their children to private Jewish schools go to Israel.
Moshe Sabbag, rabbi of La Victoire, believes “100%” of France’s Jews are thinking of moving, but that prospect is daunting. The majority of France’s Jews immigrated to France in the 1950s and 1960s from North African Muslim countries.
French Jews “love France, they love French culture, they want to stay,” Sabbag said just before leading Friday night services at the synagogue. “But Jews were targeted during huge demonstrations against the 2014 Gaza war. They were killed in Toulouse and Hypercacher,” he said, referring to the 2012 attack on a Jewish school that killed four people and the 2015 attack on a kosher Paris supermarket that left four dead. Muslim extremists carried out both attacks.
Although 2015 was a record year for French immigration to Israel, the numbers this year are lower. As of August 2016, 40% fewer Jews had arrived, compared to the same period last year, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Dov Maimon, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, a think tank, said there are a number of reasons for the decline.
“First, Jews in France are feeling more secure because the (French) prime minister has beefed up security around Jewish institutions, while the increase in terror attacks this winter in Israel may have scared off some people. It may also be that the most ideologically driven Jews have already immigrated,” Maimon said.
The biggest factor, Maimon said, “is that the Israeli prime minister promised French Jews he would take care of them if they came to Israel. They believed Israel would provide them with jobs and housing, but France is a welfare state. Israel is not.”
He pointed out that 100 French immigrant families have returned to France so far this year.
Despite some governmental and agency assistance, “they didn’t find jobs, their kids didn’t learn Hebrew, and French Jews still in France say, ‘I don’t want to be like them.’”
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein believes the assistance is making a difference. Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship for Christians and Jews, said his group provided plane tickets, $1,000 and other services to 700 new French immigrants during the past two years, including 70 people on the Haccouns’ flight.
“Our volunteers meet every person who arrives. We help them find a place to live and a school for their children. We help them write a resume and pay for day care so they can look for a job,” Eckstein said.
In the Sarcelles suburb, Rabbi Yaakov Bitton, head of an Orthodox Jewish elementary school, asked his students to raise their hands if their families planned to move to Israel. Almost every child did.
“Twenty years ago there were 30,000 Jews in Sarcelles. Today there are 15,000,” Bitton said. Despite the exodus, Bitton’s son Mendel, who is also a rabbi, is building a yeshiva in the town. “We believe that there is a future for Jews here,” Mendel Bitton said.
Toulouse residents Michelle Aiache, 65, and her husband Roger, 71, left for Israel from Paris on the same flight as the Haccoun family.
Security fears played a role in their decision to move, but “the main reason is because our three children and all five grandchildren live in Jerusalem,” Michelle Aiache said. “We’re not fleeing from France. We’re going to Israel.” source