France remains the third largest Jewish community in the world (500,000) after Israel and the United States, but at the current rate, things could change within a decade or so. France is currently experiencing a Jewish exodus that is very troubling to say the least, and while it isn’t the only western European country to see a strong resurgence in immigration to Israel, it certainly yields the highest numbers.
The Jewish community of France is very old indeed. It goes back to the first century AD in Lugdunum (known today as Lyon). That same community can be traced throughout the ages as it has been punctuated by various acts of anti-Semitism. For the Jews of France the pen of the Church Fathers led to the sword of the Crusaders. Additionally, one expulsion after the next also led to the ostracizing of the Jews at a time when Europe was experiencing “enlightenment.” The Dreyfus Affair is proof that at the turn of the 19th Century, French Jews were already realizing that their safety was at risk. But of course, they could have not fathomed the great catastrophe of the Shoah when Nazi Germany saw the only solution to the Jewish question as being complete annihilation. As a result, 80,000 French Jews perished in the Holocaust.
In all fairness, we must also recognize that French Jews had a few friends amidst their many foes. Among them was French Emperor Charlemagne (747-814) as well as Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) who to this day has a prayer dedicated to him in many French synagogue prayer books.
It is around the time of the French Revolution of 1789 that the French motto of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” (liberty, equality, brotherhood) was born. It continues to be the motto of the current French Republic, yet it seems to not really apply to the Jewish people so much.
Is France having a love/hate relationship with its Jews? Whatever has been happening lately would lead me to believe that the Jews of France are seriously considering giving up on France as they have started to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael in numbers higher than ever. France has seen nearly 100,000 Jewish people leave since 1919. It is estimated that over 7,000 Jews have left France in the last 3 years and the numbers continue to grow with no sign of slowing down. Over 1,400 have left in the first three months of 2014, showing a trend that had never been seen since 1948.
The cause for French Jews to have an increased desire to make aliyah to Israel is of course directly related to the recent surge of anti-Semitic acts but also to the multiple deaths connected to them.
Let’s consider some of the anti-Semitic events of the last 3 decades:
While we know that anti-Semitism is alive and well all around the world, France remains one of the most lethal hotbeds for the longest hatred. It runs very deep into the French soil and has been fertilized by Islamic influence over the last 60 years.
In 1980, in the then very Jewish Paris quarter of “Le Marais” on the eve of Simchat Torah, the synagogue at Rue Copernic was bombed, resulting in the death of 4 people and injuring over 40.
Only 2 years later, in 1982 in the same district, the Jewish deli Jo Goldenberg was attacked by terrorists who threw a grenade inside the restaurant and followed-up by indiscriminately firing their machine guns at patrons inside, resulting in the death of 6 people and injuring 22.
In 2003, French/Jewish disc jockey Sebastien Sellam was brutally murdered by his Muslim” “friend” who claimed, “I have killed my Jew, I will go to Heaven”. Amazingly, the whole tragedy was under reported at best and in most places not even connected to anti-Semitism.
In 2006, French Jewish man Ilan Halimi was tortured and killed by a group of French/north African Muslims known as The Gang of Barbarians. Halimi’s fate left the Paris Jewish community in shock and prompted many to organize for their departure from France.
In 2012, North African Mohammed Merah killed seven in Toulouse and Montauban. Four of his victims were a Rabbi, two of his children and another student from Jewish day school Ozar HaTorah.
And of course as recently as this last February on the streets of Paris, demonstrators were marching and chanting: “Jews out, France is not for you!”
It is so dangerous to be a Jew in France that religious Jews hide their yarmulkes (skull caps) when in public places. France is both the largest Jewish community of Europe and the most dangerous one to be part of. This recent surge of immigration is not an after thought or a reaction from the Jewish community of France. It takes time to prepare for such a move. It is culturally, emotionally and of course financially taxing.
France’s motto of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” sounds great on paper or etched in the limestone of France’s monuments, but on the street, it is a whole different story. The government, regardless of its political affiliations is all bark and no bite!
So if it seems like Jews of France are giving up on France lately, it is probably a response to the fact that for the most part France might have given up on Jews. This is one more good reason why we should support and protect Israel as a safe haven for the unwanted Jews of France or from anywhere else in the world for that matter!