French Jews considering move to Israel worry about a harder life there

January 14, 2015
(Mourners hold placards at a cemetery during the joint funeral of Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham and Francois-Michel Saada, victims of Friday's attack on a Paris grocery, in Jerusalem January 13, 2015. Four French Jews killed in the attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris were buried in Jerusalem on Tuesday before thousands of French and Israeli mourners, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying they had been returned to their "true home".REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

(Mourners hold placards at a cemetery during the joint funeral of Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Philippe Braham and Francois-Michel Saada, victims of Friday’s attack on a Paris grocery, in Jerusalem January 13, 2015. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

As more and more French Jews nervously consider moving to Israel to escape rising anti-Semitism, many worry the Jewish state may not be as much of a promised land as they would hope.

Three days of violence in Paris last week, when four Jews were among the 17 people killed by Islamist militants, has made “aliyah” – or “ascent” to Israel – the main topic among the country’s 550,000-strong Jewish community, Europe’s largest.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to encourage departures, telling French Jews at the weekend that “Israel is also your home”.

But in debates in Jewish neighborhoods or at Israeli information sessions, worries about what awaits them – notably the loss of generous French social benefits – are as strong as concerns over the growing hostility they face here.

“After what’s happened, everybody’s talking about it and more people want to leave,” said Sami, 38, a financial analyst living near the Hyper Cacher kosher grocery in eastern Paris where four hostages died last Friday.

“But we don’t want to leave at any price,” he said. “It’s like starting a new life. We’re French and it’s an Israeli culture there. They don’t recognize all our university degrees. You need Hebrew, so you have to learn a new language.”

“I talked about it with my wife yesterday, and we got into a fight,” said Sami, a member of a volunteer parents’ security service to protect the nearby Jewish school his children attend.

At an information fair run by the Jewish Agency, which promotes migration to Israel, a middle-aged man who certifies food as kosher – or fit to consume under Jewish law – worried he wouldn’t find a job. “They have plenty of kosher certifiers there,” he said.

In one corner of the room, couples huddled with Israeli social security officials, glumly comparing the services they enjoy in France to Israel’s leaner healthcare coverage, unemployment support or pension payments.

Even the attraction of living securely among Jews is countered by other realities. “It would be easier to live as a Jew there, but they have terrorism too,” said psychologist Yakov Kowarski, 59, who hides his kippa under a cloth cap.

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