French Jews on the move

February 10, 2015 Agencies
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A record 8,000 people, mostly between the ages of 16 and 35, have visited Israel opportunity fairs held by The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption this week across France.

Learning about Israel    Photo: Jeremy Fournée for The Jewish Agency for Israel.

Learning about Israel
Photo: Jeremy Fournée for The Jewish Agency for Israel.

The Orient-a-Sion fairs, which are taking place in Paris, Lyon, and Marseilles, aim to expose French Jews to the range of opportunities available to them in Israel as well as to Israel experience programs offered by Masa Israel Journey, a joint initiative of The Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel.

“We have been doing this for years, and we could not believe our eyes,” said Daniel Benhaim, head of the Jewish Agency delegation in France. “By 10 a.m., there was a line around the block. There is a major shift occurring in France, and we expect more than 10-15,000 immigrants this year. What we saw today confirms that.” In Paris alone, some 6,000 people participated in the event, triple the 2,000 who attended last year.

Jewish Agency Director-General Alan Hoffmann attended the event along with a Jewish Agency solidarity mission comprised largely of leaders from the Jewish Federations of North America. “While growing economic unrest and a frightening recent wave of antisemitism in France are certainly push factors for emigration, France is a free, Western country, and the choice of Israel over other options is a function of intrinsic connectedness, rather than one of necessity,” Hoffmann noted. “The presence of a strong Jewish Agency delegation engaged in Israel experience programming from high-school onward makes the choice of Israel organic for this community. Israel is a regular part of their lives, and that is, in large part, because of our work, which you at JFNA, along with our government partners, make possible.”

Learning about Israel    Photo: Jeremy Fournée for The Jewish Agency for Israel.

Learning about Israel
Photo: Jeremy Fournée for The Jewish Agency for Israel.

Dozens of representatives from Israeli organizations and government bodies, including the mayors of several Israeli cities, presented families in attendance with housing options, employment opportunities, and educational programs available to them in Israel.

Masa Israel Journey was prominently featured throughout the event, presenting younger participants with the range of opportunities available to them to experience life in Israel for between four and ten months. The young participants explored academic programs, professional internships, and volunteer experiences offered by Masa, as well as several new programs developed specially for young French Jews. Some 1,700 young French Jews are expected to participate in Masa programs this year.

The French Jewish community of approximately half a million is the largest Jewish community in Europe and the third largest in the world, behind Israel and the United States. Over 7,200 French Jews made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel) in 2014, more than double the 3,400 who did so in 2013 and triple the 1,900 who immigrated in 2012. Prior to the recent attacks in Paris, The Jewish Agency and its partners at the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption had predicted that some 10,000 French Jewish immigrants would come to Israel in 2015. Those estimates are now being revised upward as calls to The Jewish Agency’s Paris offices have tripled in recent weeks.

The Jewish Agency is partly funded by the Unites Israel Appeal [UIA].

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