Out Of France, Into The Fire

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By Sam Sokol

Four hundred and thirty. That is the number of new immigrants from France who arrived in Israel on Wednesday evening. Four hundred and thirty, and many of them are heading to Ashdod, Ashkelon, and other cities currently bearing the brunt of Hamas’s rage. Think about that. It’s hard to imagine from the United States.

Standing in Ben-Gurion International airport amidst the cheering, laughing crowds, I was amazed by the lack of worry over the security situation evidenced by the merriment around me.

“It’s more dangerous for Jews in France than in Israel,” one new immigrant told me, while another said that he had little, if any, fear of the rockets. It’s hard to tell how much of that was bravado put on for the press, and at least one immigrant admitted to a little fear, but for most the issue of rockets wasn’t even on the table. According to officials from the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, not even one immigrant backed out of the flight. That is a little hard to verify, but certainly the prevalent attitude among the newcomers was one of joy.

That feeling may have been helped along by the ongoing intimidation and violence directed against the French Jewish community by North African Muslim immigrants. My wife is French, and while I have not personally experienced anti-Semitism in France during my visits, I have seen the anti-Israel posters in her parents’ mixed Arab–Jewish neighborhood and have heard the stories of antagonism. Several years ago, a grenade was thrown into the market near my in-laws’ house at which I sometimes shop when visiting, and the massacre at Otzar HaTorah was certainly a blow to my wife, who knew the mother of the children killed from her days in seminary.

On Sunday evening, a mob of pro-Palestinian demonstrators besieged a synagogue in Paris in the latest in a long string of violent incidents.

There is a general consensus in Israel that while young French Jews are leaving their country due to diminishing employment prospects and anti-Semitism, the reason that they are coming here is due to the high level of Zionist sentiment manifest within their community.

That certainly seemed to be the case on Wednesday as the immigrants boarded buses from Ben-Gurion Airport’s old Terminal One to passport control. They all spontaneously burst into Jewish song, and many of those with whom I spoke stated clearly that they wanted their children to grow up here at “home” and to receive a high-quality Jewish education.

The Jews of Europe are now stuck between assimilation on the one hand and anti-Semitism on the other. Attempts to ban circumcision and ritual slaughter have been key in creating an atmosphere in which continued sustainable Jewish life has been called into question.

In fact, some have even linked anti-Semitism and assimilation, asserting a causal relationship between the two.

“Despite what people might think, anti-Semitism does not strengthen our ties with Jews overseas,” Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett said at a cabinet meeting several months ago. “For every Jew who makes aliyah as a result of anti-Semitism, there are many others who cut ties with Judaism and the Jewish way of life.”

However, the same anti-Semitism that has driven away many has also brought many to Israel.

I am writing this on Wednesday evening, and on Thursday many of the new immigrants are due to arrive in their new cities of residence. They will live through their first air-raid sirens and missile attacks and they will become accustomed to one of the less-celebrated aspects of the Israeli experience quite quickly. They will be Jews under fire. v

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