US rabbis raise $3.5m. in campaign to ‘save’ French olim from secular lifestyle

Funds to go to haredi schools and yeshivot.

THIS DELEGATION of US rabbis raised $2m. in Toronto on Monday to provide religious education for French Jews immigrating to Israel. (photo credit: AVRUMI BLUM)
THIS DELEGATION of US rabbis raised $2m. in Toronto on Monday to provide religious education for French Jews immigrating to Israel.
(photo credit: AVRUMI BLUM)
“After the euphoria of making aliya dissipates, reality hits hard,” the Foundation to Rescue Orthodox Jewish Children of France said Thursday, a day after 200 French olim (new immigrants) arrived in Israel.
On Monday, while French Jews were busy getting ready for Wednesday’s aliya flight from Paris, a delegation US rabbis were on a fund raising mission in Toronto, Canada, concerned about the religious future of the new olim.
In one day of fund-raising, the rabbis collected $2m. to add to the $1.5m. donated in the past four months for this cause, since the establishment of the foundation.
Jacob Jacobowitz, a spokesman for the Satmar community in Brooklyn and for the Foundation, tweeted The Jerusalem Post that these rabbis were working to “make sure these kids don’t end up following Jewish Agency lead,” seemingly blaming the secular lifestyles chosen by some olim on the Jewish Agency for Israel, as well as the Immigration and Absorption Ministry.
“The ultimate goal is to raise up to $5m. so the kids of the new olim end up in the same religious standards of schools they had in France, not in the secular schools like the Jewish Agency wants them to go,” Jabobowitz added.
“The Eretz Yisroel they had envisioned is far from the picture that greets them today,” Foundation spokesperson Rabbi Aron Hersh Freund said. “Buoyed by the promises of the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, they are helped to settle in irreligious neighborhoods, [and] their children enrolled in secular schools. They are told that living in Eretz Yisroel is good enough; a life of Torah and spiritual sustenance is optional.”
Satmar Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, alongside Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein and Rabbi Aharon Feldman visited several Toronto philanthropists to raise money so haredi schools in Israel will be able to absorb the influx of young immigrants.
“Tragically, untold numbers of French Jews, mostly from Sephardic backgrounds, find themselves adrift, without a support system or means of educating their children in the Torah paths,” Rabbi Hersh Freund continued. “Within a few years, these families are completely irreligious. Their children, who were proud to receive a Torah education in France, have assimilated into the secular Israeli culture, having left their faith far behind.”
The funds raised will be put toward building haredi schools and toward yeshivot for the French olim. Several such schools are expected to open in time for the school year beginning September 1.
”Providing for their spiritual and physical needs, we can bring our lost brothers and sisters back to their birthright.
Otherwise, they will rapidly be assimilated into the secular Israeli culture, with devastating results,” the group stated.
Jewish Agency for Israel spokesman Avi Mayer dismissed such claims as “absurd,” saying that the agency had witnessed no evidence indicating a shift in French Jews’ religiosity after they arrive in Israel. In fact, he noted that while the French Jewish community is diverse, it tends to be more traditionally inclined than other Jewish communities, with relatively high levels of religious observance, synagogue membership and enrollment in religious schools.
“Like all immigrant groups, French Jews bring their cultural and religious norms with them when they arrive in Israel,” he added. “Their arrival in places like Netanya and Tel Aviv has resulted in a proliferation of kosher eateries in those cities; French is increasingly heard in synagogues and religious neighborhoods around the country.”
He also observed that French olim, like all Israelis, may chose from a range of educational options. Many opt to send their children to religious schools. “Jewish Agency staffers help recently- arrived families select communities and schools that best suit them, based on a variety of factors, including religious observance. Aliya is a core Jewish value, and the notion that moving to the Jewish state entails any compromise in Jewish observance or religiosity is absurd,” he stated.
The Immigration and Absorption Ministry refused to enter a debate over religion, noting it is prepared to receive olim from all walks of life and offer them a range of assistance. It pointed out that just this week, the ministry renewed a government decision to continue a special program to encourage aliya and to facilitate the absorption of olim from France, Belgium and Ukraine.