Due to increased Islamic anti-Semitic attacks in France, the Mediterranean nation boasting the world’s third-largest Jewish population became Israel’s number-one source of immigrants last year.
In 2014, a record-breaking 7,200 French Jews immigrated to Israel from France — twice as many as the previous year. Their favorite destination? The city of Natanya. Last year, 2,000 French Jews relocated to this chic Israeli seaside town where more French is spoken than Hebrew.
Enough is enough
With anti-Semitism being nothing new across the globe, what became the tipping point for the latest wave of the Jewish diaspora from France? One French Jew — whose children attended the school across from the kosher supermarket that was attacked by the Muslim militants connected to the Charlie Hebdo massacre — says she couldn’t deal with the constant threats any longer.
"We had become paranoid,” said 33-year-old mother of two, Fanny Rhoum, according to The Associated Press. “Every event brought our departure closer."
Rhoum, who arrived in Netanya with 200 other emigrating French Jews on a special flight from Paris, says Israel provides her and other Jewish people with a greater sense of security than what they felt in France.
"Here, we get the feeling that we can protect ourselves,” Rhoum continued. ”There we have the impression that we are on our own and if, God forbid, something happens, we will have to manage."
Another Jewish woman joining the exodus back to Israel agreed militant Muslims have made France inhospitable for Jewish children.
"It's no place to raise Jewish children," Jeanette Malka, 63, said, referring to France, hoping that her children and grandchildren would soon follow. "We like Netanya a lot. We feel at home here."
Not since the days of Adolf Hitler have Jewish Europeans been in such imminent danger.
“Experts say European Jews have not felt this threatened since World War II, when six million Jews were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust,” Associated Press producer Audrey Horowitz reports.” Jews have been targeted in Belgium, Denmark and other European countries, but France has seen the worst of it. Jews [there] have increasingly reported assaults and intimidation, mostly from Muslim extremists. While some attacks have been linked to anger at Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, most have been of an anti-Semitic nature.”
Even though Jews account for only one percent of the French population, more than 50 percent of racist attacks in the country targets them. The half-million Jews living in France constitute the largest Jewish community in Europe, but it is diminishing quickly.
The 7,200 French Jews immigrating to Israel last year was a significant boost from the usual 1,000 to 2,000 leaving the country to their homeland annually. And the numbers show that there are no signs that the escalating numbers will stop.
“There was a 62-percent increase in French rates of immigration to Israel in 2013 — 3,289 French Jews made aliyah, up from 1,917 the year before,” TabletMag.com reported. ”And according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, which organizes these mass aliyah trips, those numbers are likely to keep increasing.”
Exodus, part deux
Ida Madoukh, who moved from Toulouse, France, to Netanya, asserts that a shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 - in which three children and a rabbi were killed - started the surge in the exodus.
"After that, I just couldn't stay there anymore," the 45-year-old mother of three expressed. "There are attacks in Israel too, but this is home. At least here we can live as Jews."
And evidently, the diaspora has only just begun, as Israel’s most influential figure boldly incited French Jews to return to the Promised Land.
“Following the January killings at the kosher supermarket, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to Paris and openly urged the country's Jews to move to Israel,” Horowitz noted. “The Jewish Agency reports that 2015 has already seen a 10-percent bump from last year's record numbers.”
Making sure that French Jews have all the incentive they need to pack their bags for the Land of Milk and Honey, the head of Netanya’s French absorption project, Freddo Pachter, says the city has gone through great lengths to make the new arrivals feel at home. Schools are complete with French speakers — as well as workplaces — and the city has even launched a French language website.
Pachter is pleased with the quality of new French immigrants, who he says consist of an unusually high concentration of educated professionals with a strong sense of national pride and identity.
"Israel wants to invest in them because it knows that they will stay and it's a long-term investment," Pachter explained. "They are like fresh blood for the body."