French Immigrants Are Proud, and Some Are Scared, to Arrive in Israel

Lauren Allouche is trying not to think about it. “I’ve been preparing to move to Israel for several years,” the 19-year-old student said as she settled into the special charter flight from Paris. “Nothing, not the rockets from the Hezbollah, nothing, would force me to give up this dream.”

Dafne Partouche agreed.

“I’m not afraid of Hezbollah,” said Partouche, an 18-year-old from Rouen, France, on her way to study at Tel Aviv University. “I trust the Israeli army. They will not let Hezbollah destroy the country. Well, maybe I’m a little afraid.”

Until recently, the major question asked of Jews making aliyah from France was to what extent they were driven by a growing fear of anti-Semitism, particularly among France’s large Muslim population.

But for the 650 French Jews who arrived Tuesday in Israel, thoughts about the war with Hezbollah have replaced concerns about the situation in France.

The immigrants are part of an explosion in aliyah from France since French anti-Semitism began rising after the Palestinian intifada began in 2000. They were split into two planes: one from Marseilles and another that landed several hours later from Paris.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert greeted the planeload of immigrants from Marseilles with the following words: “Our enemy has been sending missiles and sometimes they do hit and they do do damage.

“But the missiles they fire at us don’t match the secret weapon we have — the nation of Israel, those who come like you, the deep commitment among the Jewish people, the deep love from the Jewish people from every place of the world. We are a strong nation and we have the stamina needed even for long struggles.”

Olmert had too much work to do to wait for the plane that arrived hours late from Paris, but no one seemed to mind.

Sweets and soft drinks were served in a large hangar at Ben-Gurion Airport, and a parade of speakers greeted the immigrants.

But many of the olim were more interested in the hugs and kisses from family and friends who showed up to greet them.

“This is like a big family,” said Betty Benamou, visibly moved by the hundreds of people and noise around her. “I’m ready to begin a new life here.”

She said she had worked in a bank and in other office jobs, but had never found herself professionally in France.

She was going to stay with friends in Ashdod, home to many French Jews of Sephardi origin, but “I will probably end up in Tel Aviv because I love the energy there, day and night,” she said.

Most olim appeared to be settling in Ashdod, Tel Aviv and Netanya, the Francophone center of Israel.

Most of the religious Jews were heading for Jerusalem, but Joanna Cohen was moving to moving to Ofra, a West Bank settlement, with her husband and four children.

“We’re going home,” she said.

Very few of the immigrants appeared to be going to live in the West Bank, in contrast to the past, when a number of French olim went to live in Kiryat Arba, Ofra and the Gaza Strip.

Two young families were quickly surrounded by television cameras. Harold Lewy, a Paris resident originally from South Africa, was going with his wife and child to live in Acre.

Located north of Haifa, Acre has ben hit by Hezbollah rockets, and many residents have gone to stay elsewhere.

“We come in peace,” said Lewy, director of a program called Teaching Peace.

Many big shots from the French Jewish community were on hand to welcome the olim, as were officials of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

“This is the French Jewish answer to Hezbollah,” said Pierre Besnainou, chairman of the European Jewish Congress and the main backer of AMI, the French group that helped the Jewish Agency in making arrangements for the immigrants.

Amir Lapid, the Jewish Agency emissary’s in Paris, said no one had canceled his place on the plane because of the political situation.

“We’re thrilled about that,” he said. “It shows real commitment.”

Fradji Cohen appeared to have little doubt he made the right choice, despite the war.

“We have faith,” said Cohen, wearing a yarmulke and a white shirt.

“Of course,” he noted with irony, “we are moving to Jerusalem,” away from the bombings.

His wife, wearing a stylish headscarf, nodded her head in agreement, as she gave a bottle to their infant.

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