(photo credit: )
Petanque, an outdoor bowling game, is associated in the minds of those Israelis who know it with groups of men whiling away lazy afternoons in the South of France. These days, however, it's enough to deposit an Israeli identity card at the Ra'anana Municipality to become the temporary owner of a set of metal balls, and retire to a nearby outdoor area designed for throwing them.
To complete the picture, the daily newspaper Le Monde is now available at the city's new French bookstore, while freshly baked croissants can be purchased nearby in one of two recently opened patisseries, or pastry shops, on Rehov Ahuza, Ra'anana's main street.
"In addition to a wave of new immigrants from North America, the most recent wave of olim has come to Ra'anana from France," said Nehama Efrati, director of the municipality's absorption unit and herself once an immigrant from France.
Out of the 625 olim who came to Ra'anana in 2005, 173 are French-speakers, according to data provided by the municipality. Not unlike their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, Efrati said, this new wave of French olim is not immigrating to Israel out of necessity, but out of choice. She believes the main reason for their decision to come to Israel is not the growth of anti-Semitism. Rather, one widespread reason for immigration among many French Jews is a desire to lead an everyday life in harmony with their religious beliefs, which are becoming stronger among many second- and third-generation Jewish immigrants from North Africa.
In addition, these immigrants arrive here with the sense that Israel, in general, and Ra'anana, in particular, will offer them a better quality of life, including good schools, francophone synagogues, a rich cultural life, and a range of leisure and sports activities.
Between 25 percent to 30% of this new group of immigrants, said Efrati, are members of what has come to be known as the "Boeing aliya." This term has come to designate economically comfortable couples with children who, for financial reasons, make partial aliya. Typically, the wife and children move to Israel as olim, while the husband commutes to his job in France.
"Keeping the family income in euros allows people to sustain a high standard of living," Efrati said. "It's hard to generalize, but in a certain way this has even become a catalyst for aliya because it allows for the option of living between two countries."
There is also, however, a price to pay: in such families the burden of dealing with Israeli bureaucracy and raising the children falls upon the mothers. Marital crises brought on by long absences and confusing messages to the children about belonging are other downsides of leading double lives.
A new and noticeable trend among this group of olim is what Efrati calls "pre-aliya." One representative of this trend, a young, married man from Marseille, called Efrati earlier this week after arriving in Israel to determine if and where his family might move to. She often receives e-mails with detailed questions by well-informed potential immigrants.
Moreover, Efrati said, the careful planning typical of most French families arriving in Israel today means that their immigration pattern has become seasonal: the new arrivals all come in the summer, to allow for a period of adjustment before the new school year.
Unlike the "commuter" families described by Efrati, there are also those who have resolutely decided to turn a new page by coming to Israel.
One such couple is Kevin and Cathy Kezurer and their three children, Rubin, eight, Nitsah, seven, and Mathias, three, who arrived this past summer from Marseille.
Kevin, originally from South Africa, arrived in France nine years ago on a Jewish Agency trip and met his wife, Cathy, the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Algeria.
Kevin is taking a two-week break from ulpan classes at the Ra'anana absorption center, where his family is living, to look after their children while Cathy is back in France closing up the speech therapy clinic she gave up to move here. Kevin, a businessman, is still unsure about his professional future in Israel.
Although he said his family lacked for nothing in France, Kevin said they did not leave behind an "excessive" life style, adding that their move here was primarily ideological.
While parents and children in the Kezurer family are happy in Israel, Kevin said the children miss his wife's large, tight-knit family and still have difficulties with Hebrew.
Perhaps the most difficult part of moving, Kevin said, was giving up the ideal of Israel for the reality of living here.
"I think the hardest aspect of coming here," he said, "is simply accepting Israel as it is, with all its problems and difficulties."