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Some French Jews Think of Aliyah, but Others to Remain Where They Are

June 3, 2002
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With France confronting its worst spate of anti-Semitic attacks since World War II, increasing numbers of French Jews are thinking of moving to Israel.

The number of olim so far this year increased by 60 percent over last year, according to Avi Kadosh, an official in the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Paris office.

During May alone, agency officials in France fielded some 250-300 calls a day from French Jews interested in learning more about aliyah.

During the entire month of May last year, the officials say, they received only about 100 such calls.

During the first five months of the year, the officials add, they opened 650 files for potential olim. During all of 2001, they opened 250 such files.

According to Moshe Almoznino, the agency’s director in France, the prospective immigrants do not fit any one profile: They range from single students to families with children.

The interest in emigration comes amid a year filled with anti-Semitic attacks carried out mainly by Arab youths inflamed by Israeli-Palestinian violence.

It also follows the strong showing by far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in April’s first round of presidential voting.

Many French Jews have become worried about their security, as attacks have included personal assaults and attempts to set synagogues on fire or damage graves.

Following repeated complaints from the community, French authorities apparently are taking heed: A recent visit to the Marais, a Jewish neighborhood in Paris, revealed a heightened police presence at Jewish sites.

Just the same, many are concerned that the government still is not doing enough to prevent attacks and punish perpetrators.

“The police are completely inept,” says one American Jew who has lived in France for eight years. “They do nothing to stop the violence.”

Some of those meeting Jewish Agency officials ultimately will go to Israel and join family who made aliyah years ago. Others will go because they do not want their children to grow up feeling afraid and ashamed of being Jewish.

As one Jewish bookseller says of Israel, “There, at least, in spite of the violence, one is always at home, because one is always around Jews.”

Some people, however, think too much is being made of the topic.

“I don’t plan to leave, and I don’t know anyone who is,” says Albert Wajnfeld, manager of Chez Goldenberg, a famous deli in the Marais.

“France is a terre d’asile,” he says, using the French word for haven.

The French “welcomed the Poles after the pogroms and the North Africans in the 1960s,” Wajnfeld says. “Le Pen is racist and xenophobic but not a real threat, and he doesn’t speak for France.”

While Wajnfeld isn’t about to pack his bags anytime soon, he does believe many French government officials are anti-Semitic.

If only Israel had oil, he adds, the French might not be so pro-Arab.

If the government is so much against the Jews, why stay? Wajnfeld is asked.

“Because we’re used to it,” he replies, without missing a beat.

Others say many French Jews talk about aliyah but don’t plan to follow through.

“The attacks and the political situation do seriously call into question whether to stay, but I have no immediate plans to leave,” says one shopkeeper, a woman in her 30s who preferred not to give her name.

Canada is mentioned frequently as an alternative to Israel — because, according to one person who prefers to remain anonymous, “There we can find some peace and quiet. In Israel there is no peace.”

Meir Waintrater, editor in chief of the monthly Jewish magazine L’arche, says the interest in emigration is growing because “there is a lot of exasperation and worry over what is going on.”

He does not believe the anti-Semitic attacks or the success of Le Pen are indices of a high amount of anti-Semitism in France.

He believes the violence is the result of intolerance among some Maghrebins, as Arabs of North African descent are known.

“The intolerance is not aimed solely at Jews,” he says. “This is a problem of cohabitation, of the Jews and the Arabs together, and of the French in general integrating its immigrant population.”

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