Why Jews Are Quietly Fleeing France
Last March’s killings at a Jewish elementary school in Toulouse shocked many, but French Jews have been feeling less secure for years. Some leave, though security isn’t the only reason.
Every Saturday at around 12pm on the sidewalks of the Upper West Side you can hear French being spoken. It’s coming from groups of people who are coming out of the synagogues on 75th, 78th and 84th streets, where increasing numbers of French Jews are appearing each week.
They’re families with kids, young people, teachers and executives. The consulate on Fifth Avenue hasn’t estimated the exact numbers of this phenomenon but it’s definitely increasing. In the “Manhattan Day School” the teachers are showing the daughter of a family around, who just arrived with very few days warning.
Meanwhile, Alessia Lefebure, director of the “Alliance Program” between Columbia University in NYC and “Sciences Po” in Paris, speaks of “a notable number of Parisian Jewish teachers who want to teach here.” To understand what’s happening, we have to go to the Jewish Centre on 86th Street where, in March 2012, the Jewish New Yorkers urged their French counterparts to commemorate the victims of the shooting in the “Ozar Hatorah” school in Toulouse, where the jihadist Mohammed Merah killed a rabbi and three children. Leading the ceremony was Zachary, 29, a transport manager from Strasbourg. “If New York is full of French Jews- he explains- it’s because in 2002, in connection with the second Palestinian Intifada, a season of physical aggression began towards us from the Arabs that still hasn’t stopped. It just brought the conflict from the Middle East onto our streets.”
More than 80% of the almost 600,000 French Jews — France is the second highest community, apart from the US, outside of Israel — come from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Sephardic families who had spent centuries in coexistance with Muslims were forced to leave the Maghreb because of Arabic pogroms in the 1950s and ’60s and found in France an accord between monotheistic faiths. “The symptoms of Muslim intolerance against us began before 2002- adds Daniel, a French bank worker in Manhattan- but the second Intifada made the atmosphere asphyxiating”. “The killing of Ilan Halimi, 23, in February 2006 was the first shock. Then others followed suit,” explains David, father of two, from the Parisian suburb of Las Lilas. “When I was a school boy, 20% of the residents were Jewish, now there’s almost none of them still there.”