Not long ago an article appeared in the Washington Post asking the question what happens when there is no one left in Europe who really remembers the Holocaust? It continued, “In the twilight of their lives, some survivors are increasingly anxious about the world they will leave behind, even with memorials and museums around the globe commemorating the slaughter. Far-right movements, many say, are no longer merely relics, and anti-Semitism has returned with a vigor few anticipated, especially in Europe.” Consider the case of France in particular.
France recently commemorated the third anniversary of the Islamist attacks against Charlie Hebdo and the HyperCacher in Paris. Those attacks severely undermined confidence in the national security of France. However, for the Jewish community of France, the attacks were not the beginning of the problem, but merely a continuation.
The third largest Jewish community in the world has seen growing anti-Semitism in France since the 2000s. Increasingly, the Jewish community in France no longer feels safe. The most salient events were the murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006, the attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 and the attack on the Hypercasher in Paris in 2015. These three events alone accounted for the murder of nine Jews, including three children who were murdered at close range.
In 2014, there were 851 antisemitic acts of violence in France as recorded by the Protection Service of the Jewish Community. Indeed, some Jews in their private lives in France have given up wearing their kippa or the Star of David for fear of insults or aggression. This video from 2015 shows the kind of intimidation a Jew can face depending on what part of Paris they walk through.
The Aliyah In Israel
The growing antagonism towards them has led some French Jews to make the drastic decision to leave the country.
For several decades now, Jews in France have been leaving for Israel. The attacks of 2015 doubled the figure of departures, which is now about 6,000 to 7,000 per year. Following the 2015 attacks, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu traveled to Paris, and while there did not miss the opportunity to mention that Israel was open to French Jews. The president of the Jewish Agency for Israel went further, stating that there was “no future for Jews in France.”
It is no secret that the Israeli government is inviting as many Jews as possible to come to Israel. To promote Israel, programs like the Taglit – a “journey of identity” – are offered free of charge to Jews around the world who wish to visit the country. As for France, there are many initiatives to attract and facilitate the exodus of French Jews, such as ads on French public television about Israel, or agencies that offer to accompany French Jews who decide to leave. Those who leave for Israel see it as the promised land where they will finally feel safe. The Israeli authorities assist those people by offering them citizenship and by helping them with housing and studies.
Return To Reality
Even if Israel remains the first destination for French Jews seeking a new home, many of them are also returning to France in greater numbers. That is because their integration into Israeli society is not always successful and is much more difficult than envisioned. For French immigrants to Israel, the first barrier on arrival is the language. Some people are unable to cope with job searches, low wages, high rents or the hot weather. For others, it’s an identity problem – Jews from France are confronted with the reality of a country they idealized, but that is quite different in reality, with values and issues that are very different from those in France. Among the differences is the practice of religion, which back home is a private and moderate matter but in Israel is a central issue in the country’s politics.
Quebec, A New Promised Land
As an alternative to Israel, the province of Quebec in Canada is popular. Since 2004, every year, approximately 4,000 French people settle there permanently. In fact, the province is now a destination of choice for the French Jewish community. For those who no longer feel safe in France and don’t relish the idea of moving to Israel, Quebec is a place full of opportunities. Lawyers, doctors, dentists and architects, all decide to try their luck and to immigrate as skilled workers. Most of them choose to settle in Montreal, where the Jewish community is strong. In 2011, over 90,000 Jews lived in Montreal, making up 2.4% of the city’s population. Given the significant demand, a “France initiative“ has been introduced to help the Jews of France immigrate by giving advice on employment. Settlement is also accomplished by twinning Jewish families, who aim to help each other.
Why the interest for Quebec? For one thing, integration is much easier. The French choose Quebec because they already speak French. Indeed, strong French language skills gives a prospective immigrant an advantage as a Quebec investor immigrant or extra points in Canada’s Express Entry system. In effect, they have a leg up on being approved for permanent residence either as an investor or as a skilled worker. In addition, Quebec is attractive because of its low unemployment rate, demand for skilled trades, the low cost of real estate and the relative security compared with that of France and Israel.
Home Sweet Home
For some Jews, however, their attachment to France remains stronger than ever. According to Eliette Abécassis, author of the book “The Temptation to Leave,” education is the “best antidote” against anti-Semitism. These French Jews are convinced that they can remain Jewish in their country. According to this thinking, terrorist attacks in France are a concern not only for Jews, but for everyone. Racism in France, and by extension anti-Semitism, is a concern in general. To illustrate the point, consider that an undocumented Muslim migrant, Lassala Bathily, saved the lives of several Jewish hostages of the Hypercasher. According to the “education” philosophy, unity is the key to solving the problem. These Jews are ready to unite with others to remain part of French society. Jewish survivors of World War II must play a part in this education and remind us of the perils of forgetting our past. But that role will have to pass on to a new generation in France and elsewhere when they are gone.
This article is reprinted from an article formerly published in the Forbes.