French success

They may work harder here and earn less, but Keren and David Zitoun feel safer here than in France.

French success (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
French success
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Kupat Holim pharmacies are not the most welcoming of places – long queues and grumpy staff make picking up one’s pills an ordeal best kept to a minimum. But in Kfar Saba you might be lucky enough to be greeted by Keren Zitoun, who is pretty and friendly and greets you with a big smile and French-accented Hebrew.
She made aliya with her husband, David, and three small children three years ago. The time had come to leave France, not, they hasten to add, because of anti-Semitism but because it had always been their dream to move to Israel, and when David found work in his field of nanotechnology research, they decided to take the plunge.
Keren is from Toulouse and the couple met when David went there from Paris to study under a well-known professor to complete his PhD. He spotted Keren at a synagogue kiddush, and the rest is history.
Her brothers’ children study at the Toulouse school in which children were murdered by a terrorist a few months ago.
“Many more Jews want to come to Israel since that happened,” she says. French Jews are also uncertain of the future with the election of the new president.
“Did you know that 94 percent of French Jews voted for [former president Nicolas] Sarkozy?” Both Keren and David have doctorates and their fathers are well-known cardiologists in Paris and the best of friends. Keren studied for seven years for her pharmacist qualifications and worked for eight years in Montpelier, where they were living.
When they decided to make aliya they were not even told of the option of going to an absorption center, but they feel that moving straight into an apartment was a good way to integrate into Israeli life and they do not feel they missed out on anything.
David came two months before Keren to start teaching at Bar-Ilan University, and began looking for a place to buy.
“I looked in Ramat Gan and Petah Tikva but in the end, after consulting with family here, I settled on Ra’anana. There’s a good ulpan here and many other French people have moved to the town.”
He began house-hunting, sending photos of potential apartments back to France. They chose one right in the center, which seemed suitable for the young family. Keren did the five-month ulpan course and the children settled into kindergarten and schools. She took the re-qualifying exam and almost immediately began work in Kfar Saba.
Her feelings about her work are ambivalent as it is so different from the way she is used to working.
“The level is low and it’s closed and rigid,” she says. “The only part I really like is the communication with people. I try to be professional and ask questions but I feel there is no chance to take it to a higher level.”
Most of her fellow pharmacists are Russian and of course speak to each other in their native tongue, which she accepts and does not get offended by. The Arab pharmacists are professional but also speak to each other, naturally, in Arabic.
Once a week she takes a course which will eventually bring more responsibility.
“It’s a good job with excellent conditions – for instance I’m assured of a pension – but I’m 34, not 50 – so that isn’t terribly comforting right now. On the other hand, if one of the children is sick I’m able to take time off without too much trouble.”
Shabbat is the time for the whole family to get together. Friends are often invited to a meal or the Zitouns are on the receiving end of the invitation, and they are happy to have found many like-minded young families – French and Israeli – in their new hometown. David attends an interesting synagogue which is a mix of French Tunisian and Breslov. The Breslov members will burst into song at unexpected times, while the congregants chat to each other in French and announcements are made in Hebrew. The Zitouns like the fact that while Shabbat in France during the summer ended at 11 at night, which made it difficult with small children, here it never ends much past 8 p.m.
They are both very keen on sports activities and Keren especially loves to run. She gets up at five in the morning three times a week to run around the town, which is small potatoes for someone who ran in the Paris marathon.
“I love running,” says Keren. “It’s very healthy and I find it especially good for stress.”
David is a karate expert, but since he does not have very flexible hours at work he has put the karate on hold and runs instead.
They also like to swim whenever time allows.
“There are always ups and downs,” they say.
“We work harder than in France and we earn less. But we feel safe here.”