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Anti-Semitism Prompts French Jews to Immigrate to Israel Despite COVID-19

courtesyPhoto Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

JERUSALEM, Israel - Despite lockdowns and heavy travel restrictions, Israel welcomed 140 new immigrants from France at Ben Gurion Airport on Monday evening.

“The Jews of Europe and the rest of the world are currently facing complex challenges, and every Jew should know that the gates of this country are still open, even during an emergency or crisis,” said Israel’s Minister of Immigration and Absorption, Pnina Tamano-Shata.

“The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption will accompany the olim (new immigrants) in their first steps towards integration into Israeli society because only together are we stronger,” said Tamano-Shata, herself an immigrant from Ethiopia,

She greeted the newcomers at the airport and said Israel is expecting more than 10,000 olim in 2020.

“I congratulate our brothers and sisters from France, who are Zionists and full of love for this country, and who today, realized their dream of making Aliyah and uniting with the people living in Zion,” she said.

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There are more than 450,000 Jews who live in France, making it one of the largest Jewish communities in the world. But many of them are living in fear as anti-Semitic incidents there continue to rise.

Some of the new immigrants said they made Aliyah (Hebrew for immigration) because they are Zionists (Jews who want to return to their biblical or ancestral homeland) and want to live safely as Jews. Some of them said they had regularly faced anti-Semitism despite the efforts of French authorities to put a stop to it.

Barbara Simha Bohadana, her husband and three children were among the newcomers from Paris.

“I was fired because I was Jewish. A pharmacy manager, who I worked for as a pharmacist, did not even try to hide the reason for my dismissal. He just told me that a wig or any other sign of my Jewishness was not acceptable and that if I did not have them removed, I should just get up and leave. So I got up and left,” Bohadana said.

“My husband, Dan, an anesthesiologist by profession, also had a hard time finding a job because of his Jewish background,” she added.

Bohadana, who described her family as religious and keepers of a ‘traditional Jewish lifestyle” said they were always Zionists and knew they would one day make Aliyah.

“I am so happy that we are moving to Israel and that we will never have to go through such experiences again,” she said.

Sixty of the newcomers are children under 18, eleven are in the medical and paramedical professions, 17 have careers in hi-tech and 27 work in liberal arts professions.

Lionel Giuili, 41, who said he has relatives here, including his parents and sister, arrived Monday with his wife Stephanie and their three children.

“We always knew we would make Aliyah. We were always connected to Israel and maintained Jewish tradition. However, the Hypercacher Kosher Supermarket siege was the straw that broke the camel's back, and we finally decided to make Aliyah,” said Giuili.

In 2015, an armed attacker who had pledged allegiance to ISIS, entered the kosher supermarket and took hostages.  He killed four Jewish people before police stormed the shop and killed him.

Giuili said he never suffered physical violence but was always cautious.

“If, for example, while I was sitting and eating in my store and I heard someone enter the store, I automatically took off my kippah (yarmulke). Neither I nor my children walked around the street with Jewish symbols,” he explained.

“I feel free in Israel, and I no longer have to hide my Jewish identity. This reflex I developed that made me take my kippah off and put it in my pocket will no longer be necessary as I will be living in Israel,” he said, adding that his family was not afraid to move to Israel even during the coronavirus pandemic.

The flight was sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship), which has been helping Jews make Aliyah for more than 20 years. 

“We are proud to continue to bring hundreds of olim to Israel, even during a complex period as the coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences,” said Yael Eckstein, president of The Fellowship.

“The arrival of the olim is not only a fulfillment of Zionism; it is also a sign for prospective olim to make Aliyah in any situation,” Eckstein added.

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