PARIS – One percent of the French Jews will move to Israel in 2014, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky says.
“Within a single year, and for the first time in history, a Jewish community in the West is sending a full percent of its Jews to build their lives in Israel... I believe we will arrive to the number of 6,000 olim, and this is not the end,” Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
He repeated this conviction in a speech to hundreds of Jews participating in an emotional farewell ceremony in Paris ahead of their immigration to Israel this summer.
The event, which was organized by the Jewish Agency and the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, became a moving demonstration of solidarity with Israel, a few days after the sad ending of the search for the three boys who were kidnapped and murdered near Hebron, but also with Sharansky, hailed as a hero of the Jewish people.
It took place at the historic Synagogue de la rue des Tournelles, in the Marais quarter, under heavy security, and was dedicated to the old new homeland chosen by the departing families: aliya information, blue and white flags, Hebrew songs performed by an Israeli performer (“Jerusalem of Gold,” “Hatikva,” etc), and a documentary movie on life and work of ex-refusenik Sharansky, from his fight against the USSR through his release from prison in 1986 and his political and public career in Israel.
The evening was attended by the leadership of the French Jewish community, including Joël Mergui, the president of the Consistoire central israélite de France (the umbrella organization of French Jewry); newly elected Chief Rabbi of France Haïm Korsia; and Richard Pasquier, the president of Keren Hayesod France; as well as Israeli Ambassador Yossi Gal.
Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver expressed best wishes to the future immigrants on behalf of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“We want you in Israel,” she said. “We want you at home.”
The first half of 2014 saw a dramatic increase in aliya from France. According to official estimations, more than 5,000 French Jews will immigrate to Israel by this year, compared to 3,289 in 2013 and 1,917 in 2012. Some 2,600 immigrated during the first six months of 2014, up from 812 during the equivalent period in 2013.
This makes France the “biggest aliya country, more than the USA or Russia,” Sharansky said in his interview to the Post.
It is due, he explained, to “a permanent feeling of insecurity.”
“For more than 10 years, people here [have been] asked not to go out with a kippa, it is not like that in Moscow or Kiev. Second, the economic crisis. But most of all, the Muslim immigration and the new liberal anti-Semitism, the demonization of Israel, added to the classical anti-Semitism...,” he said.
In his speech, Sharansky said: “As we saw again this week, whether Jews are murdered in Toulouse, in Brussels or in Israel, it is the same struggle, the same hatred, the same pain, and the same mourning. The difference is that in Israel we have an army and a government that work day and night to defeat terror and ensure that we can live in our land... Israel has become a preferred destination for young French Jews. This is a tribute to the efforts of... the Jewish Agency to strengthen young French Jews’ connections to their Jewish identities and to Israel... We await you in Israel with open arms.”
Ariel Kandel, the head of the Jewish Agency delegation in France, said that “40 years ago, on July 4, 1974, Nathan and Avital [his wife, also present at the ceremony], were married, before he entered soviet jail [for Zionist activities] and Avital immigrated to Israel from where she started a 12-year world campaign for him.”
In their speeches, the Jewish dignitaries greeted the legendary Shcharansky.
Mergui: “Who could better than Nathan Shcharansky be the chairman of the Jewish Agency? What a beautiful symbol for the State of Israel. He is the best of us.”
Korsia: “He embodies the values of France.”
Pasquier: “It is a great honor for us to attend this ceremony in presence of Nathan and Avital.”
The audience included Sigal Atlan, an Israeli citizen who had settled in France and is now going back home with her husband and their five children aged eight through 19. Her oldest child is expected to begin his army service soon after their arrival in Ashdod, where an apartment is awaiting them.
They leave France on July 16.
Why? “Everything, anti-Semitism, Zahal [the IDF], schools...”
Not far from them sit two sisters, Yvana, 17, and Wendy, 14.
They are part of a family of eight children, four girls and four boys. They also plan to leave on July 16, to join one of their brothers already in Israel. The mother explains the decision: “For me, France is finished.”