As antisemitism continues to rise in France, emphasis is now being put on encouraging Jewish students to study in Israel after school.
This week, 1000 students from Jewish schools in France arrived as part of "Bac Bleu Blanc" (graduates in Blue and White), a project initiated and organized by the Jewish Agency's educational arm Israel Experience.
The program exposes participants to Israeli universities, academic opportunities and options for aliyah. Participants also tour the country.
Paul Fitoussi, director of the Yavne school in Marseille, stressed: “All Jews should move to Israel. France is not our home anymore. The younger generation must do this. My two daughters immigrated to Israel and learn in Beersheba, and I am encouraging my third daughter to do the same.”
Yoni Elimelech, deputy director of the Otzar Torah School in Paris’s 13th District, echoed those sentiments. “While this may sound strange, for us the fact that we encourage our guys to immigrate to Israel is perfectly natural. I think every 18-year-old [Jewish] boy or girl living in France should immigrate to Israel.”
Fitoussi and Elimelech, who are both on the tour with the students, described the rise of antisemitism in France. “Because of the increased antisemitic attacks,” Fitoussi said that he decided “not to allow students to eat or have sports classes outside of school building.
“Often, stones are thrown at students or they yell slurs like ‘dirty Jews’ towards them,” he said.
Elimelech added that only last week, his school received a transfer student from a public school in the 19th district “due to antisemitic attacks” the child had to endure.
According to Israel Experience, to date, over 40% of participants in each program have immigrated to Israel.
Some of the students, who asked that their full last names not be used for safety reasons, recalled difficult antisemitic experiences they have endured while living in France.
Audrey T, of Ort Marseille Jewish School, said that last September she was sitting with a friend on a bench in front of their school when suddenly three thugs grabbed him by the hair.
“They hit him, and then they started beating him,” she said.
In shock by the whole situation, she and another person that was there just froze.
Finally, one of the teachers came and helped them. Their complaint to the police was ignored.
Since then, Audrey said that “I am afraid every time I get onto a bus or if I’m sitting in a park. I’m afraid to also be attacked like that. In the past, I didn’t think so much about my Jewish identity but since [last September], I think about it a lot.”
Another student on the trip, Lena S, also from Marseille, said that she now “hides the necklace I wear with the Star of David and Jewish symbols. I don’t want to be that religious Jew [who is] attacked in the metro or one of the less safer neighborhoods.” She added she is “always equipped with pepper spray.”
Eitan Z of the 12th district of Paris said he only wears a kippah on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, “and even then I walk fast out of fear for being attacked. It does not matter Saturday or weekday. There is always a fear that I will be attacked because I am a Jew.”
He added that although he was born and raised in Paris, only in Israel do “I feel at home.”
Yoav Z, who is a student at a Jewish school in Strasbourg, said that when the cemetery in the nearby village of Westhoffen was desecrated a few weeks ago, he realized that “there are neighborhoods that I can’t enter with a kippah on my head. When I saw the desecration of the cemetery, I thought I have nowhere else to go but Israel. But, at the same time it’s not that simple to make the move,” he said.
Yonah G. of the 19th borough in Paris said she is unsure about her future in France.
“I am thinking of staying in France but I will only know after I start studying,” she said. “There is a different atmosphere in Paris and I feel much safer here. But it’s very hard to decide what to do because if I move to Israel, there are problems I worry about, like integration into Israeli society, language and integration issues and the different nature of the Israelis.”
During the trip the students went up Masada, visited the Dead Sea, and visited several universities including the University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, among others.
Amos Hermon, CEO of the Israel Experience, said it a statement that “in recent years we have seen an increase in the trend of antisemitism in Europe as a whole, and in France in particular. The Israeli Experience works to encourage the youth in France to get to know Israel better, and to our delight many decide to come here,” he said.