Three days after a mob surrounded a Parisian synagogue, trapping worshipers inside and leading to a brawl between pro-Palestinian demonstrators and members of the local Jewish community, hundreds of French immigrants arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday to start new lives in Israel.
Waving flags and chanting “Am Yisrael hai” (the nation of Israel lives), the 430 French olim filed past a sign for a bomb shelter into the Immigration and Absorption Ministry reception area to listen to welcoming speeches and, afterward, to get down to the bureaucratic business of filling out the paperwork to become Israeli citizens.
Many of them will be moving to areas of the country under the heaviest missile fire, including Ashdod and Ashkelon, Jewish Agency officials said. Despite the conflict, however, the immigrants appeared sanguine and unafraid.
The bombing “doesn’t bother me,” immigrant David Zafran explained. “The main thing is to be here.”
“It’s more dangerous for Jews in France,” agreed Jeremy Tawil, a Tel Aviv-bound Parisian. “I am not scared.
There is a God.”
“Our coming does not depend on the war, but [is] because of our children,” added Eric Azizi, a newcomer from Paris who arrived with his wife and three kids. “Even if Israel is burning, we will be there.”
Some, like Annael Spiro, a mother of seven, already have homes in Israel. The Spiros came here, she explained, because as Orthodox Jews, they felt that their only home was in Israel.
Moving full-time into her house in Ashdod doesn’t scare her, she asserted.
A great number of the new arrivals came with small children, and a common refrain among the immigrants was a desire to create a better life for their children and to provide them with a quality education here.
“I came for my kids,” said Natan Schreiber, who is moving to Jerusalem with his five children. “I’m a little scared, but we have faith.”
According to Liza Cohen, an employee of the Jerusalem Municipality tasked with aiding French immigrants in their transition, education is one of the primary reasons that young families come here.
Her department, along with municipalities in a number of other cities, maintains contact with immigrants for up to a year before their departure from France and for a lengthy period afterward.
“At first we thought that the French did not need us to hold their hands, but they have special needs, like all immigrants,” she said.
Bayit Yehudi MK Yoni Chetboun, the child of French immigrants, said that the new immigrants reminded him of his parents, who came under fire as immigrants to Nahariya in the late 1970s. He said that seeing so many newcomers during this time of conflict was very emotional for him.
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said that he was impressed that none of the immigrants on the two flights that arrived on Wednesday night had canceled due to the hostilities.
“I asked some on the plane if they were scared,” he said. “All the fear stayed in France.”
“They are not leaving because of anti-Semitism,” said Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver. “They want a connection to their nation and to the Israeli family.”
According to Hagai Mann, an adviser to the minister, more than 500 other immigrants from Australia, France, Russia and other countries have arrived in Israel since the outbreak of the current violence.
“Lots of them are going to Ashkelon and Beersheba and Ashdod, places under fire,” he said.