In France, it’s dangerous to be a Jew
Since the attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris, Jewish institutions in France operate under heavy guard, with commandos outside schools and patrols during prayers at the synagogue; meanwhile, 57% of French Jews want to move to Israel.
PARIS – Lucien de Hirsch, a Jewish school located on the 19th arrondissement of Paris, looks like a fortress. The gigantic school, attended by 1,250 students from kindergarten to the 12th grade, is protected by a platoon of camouflage-attired commandos, rifles at the ready. Since the attack at a kosher Jewish supermarket in January 2015, in which four Jewish men were murdered, the French don’t take any chances, and there are just as many security personnel here as there are at the Eiffel Tower. This is the situation in France in 2016, where it is dangerous to be a Jew. This is how every Jewish school is protected, as well as synagogues and other institutions in the Jewish community.
Baron Hirsch, who founded the school in 1901, named it after his son Lucien. He wanted to preserve the Jewish identity of the students, but had no idea that 115 years later, most of its alumni would be making aliyah to Israel. This is not only because of the Zionist education they received, but primarily because of the growing anti-Semitism in France. Out of the 70 high school students that graduated in 2015, 40 of them immigrated to Israel without their parents.
The classrooms are becoming increasingly empty, causing principal Paul Fitoussi to seek new students among those that up to now studied in the public schools in Paris. The task is not hard: Jewish parents who thought in the past that if their children study in a public school, they would not be bothered – realized they were wrong, and prefer to enroll their children at Lucien de Hirsch and take advantage of the security offered there.
A survey conducted recently by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry showed a substantial increase in the number of Jews wishing to make aliyah to Israel from France. The current number is about 57 percent out of about 500,000 Jews in France.
“Praise God, our children are immigrating to Israel,” Fitoussi says. “Every child that studies at the school and immigrates to Israel is a success in my opinion. My daughter also immigrated a year and a half ago, after graduating, and she is now doing National Service (Sherut Leumi).
“People nowadays think it is dangerous to be Jewish in France because there was a series of events: The kidnapping and murder of Ilan Halimi ten years ago, the terror attack at the Jewish school in Toulouse four years ago, the stabbings in Marseille, last year’s attack at Hyper Cacher, there is a problem. For the French, worrying about security issues is new to them. I talk to the police and I understand they don’t know what to do. They brought armed soldiers to the schools, but I know that in the long term this is not a solution.”
These soldiers became part of the landscape of the school. They sit down to eat with the teachers, so it is not unusual to see a Jewish teacher with a skullcap on his head eating a kosher chicken with cauliflower and endive salad, sitting next to a commando who is armed from head to toe.
The students there feel safe. Their problems start when they go home from school. Zechariah Berkovich, an eighth grader, says, “Paris is now more dangerous than Jerusalem. We receive insults on the streets constantly, saying, ‘dirty Jews’. I feel safer in Israel, because there are plenty of weapons there. Here there is not enough security.”
His classmate Reuven Cohen explains, “Not long ago I came home from school, and an Arab saw me with a skullcap and wanted to beat me up, so I ran away from him.”
The students say verbal abuse against the Jews is a matter of routine. In other cases, they endure spitting, kicks and threats.
Fifth-grader Yitzhak Marciano suffered through an ordeal three weeks ago. “When I went to Saturday afternoon prayers at the synagogue with a black skullcap, eight black men jumped me and pinned me to a wall. They were older than me. Each had a stick with which they threatened me and demanded that I give them my coat. They asked if I was Jewish, I said yes, they said that the Jews are full of money, and if I did not give them my coat, they will kill me. I tried to argue. I told
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