By the thousands, French Jews leave for Israel
PARIS — Increasing numbers of French Jews are moving to Israel, citing dim economic prospects and a sense of being caught between an increasingly influential far right and militant Islam. More than 5,000 are on track to leave this year, the most since after the Six-Day War in 1967.
Israel, viewing the influx as a success, is doubling down on its efforts to attract Europeans, planning to dedicate $29 million during two years to bring in immigrants.
France has the world's third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the United States — about 500,000, according to rough estimates. The country bans any official documentation of a person's race, religion or ethnicity in a law with roots in French shame over its collaboration with the Nazis.
Since World War II, France has redoubled efforts to make Jewish families feel welcome. But many say dramatic acts of anti-Semitism, coupled with France's stagnant economy — which includes a 25 percent youth unemployment rate, compared with 11 percent in Israel — make a hard choice easier.
Laurie Levy, 26, left in 2013. A native of the southern city of Toulouse, her departure occurred when attacks by a French-born Islamic radical on a Jewish school and soldiers left seven people dead, including three children and a rabbi. She has given up on a career in French law and left behind her parents and siblings.
In Tel Aviv, she no longer feels the need to hide the Star of David she wears around her neck. But there are other concerns: Her parents are unlikely to uproot themselves, and she worries about their future back in France. They, in turn, worry about her, living alone in a different country.
“Life is beautiful here. You work. You go to the beach. You see your friends. You're not afraid,” said Levy, who now works at an Israeli design firm. “The irony is that I am more concerned about them than they are about me.”
That she was able to switch fields and find a job is a demonstration of Israel's economic allure. The country annually welcomes 1,000 French youths for a year abroad, and 70 percent of them decide to stay in Israel, according to Ariel Kandel, who runs the Jewish Agency for Israel in Paris.
The agency, which works closely with the Israeli government, aims to strengthen ties between Jews in the diaspora, and Israel and spends tens of millions of dollars each year to bring Jews to Israel permanently.