France's Jewish migrants face challenge of life in Israel

Tue Jan 27, 2015 9:41am EST
 
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By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - At a busy supermarket in Jerusalem a smartly dressed woman, recently arrived in Israel, was stopping shoppers to ask if anyone spoke French. Having found a candidate, her first question was: "Where's the cheese counter?"

For Jews coming to "the Jewish state" from all corners reached by the diaspora, the move may bring relief, but it also raises challenges: a new language and culture, unfamiliar social codes and the difficulty of finding a job -- let alone a cheese counter, something uncommon in Israel.

With anti-Semitism rising in France, and their worries stoked by this month's killing of four Jews in a kosher supermarket in Paris, French Jews now make up the largest group of new migrants to Israel, nearly a third of all arrivals.

Some 7,000 arrived in 2014, double 2013's figure. That is expected to rise again this year, with up to 15,000 French making "Aliyah" - the process of moving, or literally "ascending", to Israel.

While it may not match the mass waves of migration that helped build the country in the years after its 1948 founding, or those that followed the Soviet Union's collapse in the 1990s when more than one million people came, Aliyah remains a central plank of Israeli policy and a driver of its demographics.

Over its history, Israel has drawn in 3.6 million Jews from more than 90 countries, helping to fuel rapid growth in the economy and the population, which now stands at more than 8 million, 80 percent of whom are Jewish.

Given the vast influx, authorities are accustomed to absorbing and integrating large numbers quickly, whether they originate from Ethiopia, France, Russia or the United States. It's the migrants themselves who have to work hard to adapt.

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Jewish tourists from France, who say they plan to move to Israel, sit on the beach in Netanya, a city of 180,000 on the Mediterranean north of Tel Aviv, that has become the semi-official capital of the French community in Israel January 20, 2015.       REUTERS/Amir Cohen