Most French Jewish students want to leave, JAFI emissary says

The Jewish Agency has dispatched 84 full-time shlichim around the world, with the majority of them in the US and three in Paris.

June 26, 2016 18:02
3 minute read.

A French and Israeli flag are seen during a 2001 demonstration in Paris.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The majority of young Jews studying at French universities want to leave France, according to Eliav Geissmann, one of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s shlichim (emissaries) in Paris.

“The situation of Jewish students in France is complicated,” Geissmann told The Jerusalem Post in an interview coinciding with JAFI’s Board of Governors gathering in Paris. “It is hard for those who have already started to study to leave their studies in the middle. But there is an overwhelming sense that the majority of students want to leave. Many talk about going to the US, Canada and of course, Israel.”

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Asked how many French students were actually planning aliya, Geissmann said: “I can’t really say how many want to come to Israel, but I believe it is more than half.”

He urged the Israeli government to “do more to encourage them,” including the introduction of a student exchange program with French universities.

“If we introduced a student exchange, many might go to Israel and stay after their studies,” he said. “We are losing many students, many of whom are quality people.”

Geissmann said that despite rising anti-Semitism, French universities don’t experience BDS in the same way as in North America.

“I haven’t felt anything related to BDS in the last year,” he said. “Of course, there is anti-Semitism, and it is not simple to walk around with a kippa in France today. There are those who are prepared to take the risk, and those who aren’t.”

Asked what his message was to the Board of Governors meeting for the first time in France, Geissmann said: “There is huge potential and a huge desire among French Jews, especially students, to come to Israel, and we must continue to work and strengthen our activities especially during this vital period.”

The Jewish Agency has dispatched 84 full-time shlichim around the world, with the majority of them in the US and three in Paris. Its Shlichim Unit, according to its website, aspires to “securing the Jewish future, in France and around the world.”

JAFI director-general Alan Hoffman said there has been “a major paradigm change” in the Shlichim Unit.

“The most important change is the concept of ‘young shlichut,’ which is that, the younger you are able to enlist Israelis as shlichim, the bigger asset you have to the entire pool of Israeli society,” he said. “The average age is about 28. The profile is single, after the army or first degree, and about 50-50 men and women.”

Hoffman noted that in addition to the full-time shlichim, the Jewish Agency is also involved in sending young Israeli emissaries to summer camps, Israel Fellows to Hillel, and pre-army youngsters on a one-year voluntary service abroad called Shnat Sherut.

“We are able to attract the very best in Israeli society, and we have some spectacular young people,” he said. “They become the rallying point for all Jewish students and against BDS.”

“The other side of the paradigm shift is that we have come to understand that in order to ensure the Jewish future and the connection of young Jews to Israel, it’s not enough only to bring Israel to young Jews in the Diaspora,” Hoffman added. “We have to seed Israeli society, particularly people who are going to take on leadership positions, with young people who have had an experience of living in a Jewish community.”

Of the 5,000 Israelis who do Shnat Sherut, he said, 150 are dispatched to eight Jewish communities in the Diaspora as part of their national service, and the Jewish Agency together with the IDF plans to increase this number to 1,000 annually.

“These young Israelis contribute immensely to the communities they serve, but most importantly to me, they come back with a totally different understanding of what life in the Jewish Diaspora is like,” he said. “These are going to be the leaders of Israeli society, and this is an opportunity to work in both directions in terms of the Jewish Agency’s strategic goals.”

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