I don’t know if you know this about me, but I am fascinated with languages. Recently I’ve been on a very strict regimen of learning Spanish on DuoLingo. I’ve been practicing almost every day since the beginning of the summer, and creo que puedo decir que mi castellano es mucho mejor ahora. O, se puede decir, es existente. 😛 They say that people with musical abilities tend to be better at grasping languages, and in these past few months I’ve developed a theory why. When I immerse myself in a new language, I start hearing words, phrases and sounds from it echoing in my thoughts, much the way I get a catchy song stuck in my head.
Anyway, what I’ve found in the last few days is that the language reverberating in my head has not, for a change, been Spanish.
It’s been French.
Three guesses why. :-/
I studied French as a third language in eighth and ninth grade. Personally, in retrospect, I think they should have been teaching us Arabic. But given that those years were the height of the second Intifada, and that it was a religious school that was not supposed to have a political affiliation but quietly arranged buses to anti-disengagement protests… you can imagine that maybe some among the staff and the parents might not have been so thrilled with that choice. So French it was. And it so happened that in eighth grade, I had a unique opportunity to travel to Paris with my school choir. We visited several Jewish schools and communities in Paris, and when we weren’t performing, we toured. It was my first time in Europe, and my maternal grandparents had firmly instilled within me an appreciation for high culture, art, music and travel, so I was well trained to appreciate Paris. 😉 The trip was wonderful and left me hoping to return someday.
However. There was one thing that struck me about being in Paris that I had never felt before in the USA or in Israel. Something that I felt again, several years later, in the city you call home. Something that I felt as a Jew, especially when visiting the Jewish communities in those cities.
If you give it some thought, it kind of sounds ridiculous. I mean… I live in Israel, right? This trip was in March of 2001. 8 Israelis were killed and about 45 were injured in terror attacks in that month alone. My trip to Barcelona was in 2006, just three months after the Second Lebanon War, in which I personally dodged a few Katyushas in Haifa. Certainly, far more Jews have been killed on racist/nationalist grounds in Israel than in France or Spain over the past fifteen years. But in Israel we do not tuck our Stars of David under our shirts. In Israel we do not hide our synagogues behind heavy metal gates and stern security personnel. And obviously, in Israel, we do not avoid speaking or wearing Hebrew in public. Seeing Jews do these things, just as a matter of daily life, was appalling to me. It felt backwards, so different from the feeling of being Jewish in America (or even in London, which I visited in 2004), and from the kind of fear we deal with in Israel.
The news from Paris last week was horrifying but not surprising to me. (And frankly I find it upsetting that the world’s attention was focused solely on Paris while 2,000 people were massacred by Boko Haram in Africa. But I digress.) There has been a serious uptick in antisemitic incidents in Europe in general and France in particular lately; boosted by the war in Gaza, but it was on an upward trend beforehand, too. I don’t need to read the papers to know this; all I have to do is open my ears. I’ve been hearing more and more French on the streets. This year was the first time in Israel’s history that France topped the countries of origin for olim, new immigrants to Israel. 7,000 French Jews moved here in 2014–and that includes the exhausting war we had this summer. If you ask any of these olim, they will tell you that they’ll take the rockets over the constant, looming threat of antisemitism any day. At least, they say, here, we are in charge of our own destiny.
France is the world’s third largest Jewish community, after the USA and Israel. But a few years down the line, that may no longer be true. The Jews are fleeing France. And when Jews start emigrating en masse, it is not a good sign for the place from which they’re fleeing. Persecution often starts with Jews, but it never ends with them… and we already saw that in Paris last week.
And while I do find all this upsetting and infuriating, I can’t say I’m unhappy about the wave of immigration from France. There is a sizeable (and growing) community of French expats in my town, one of whom started a lovely café here. 😀 The other day Eitan and I were walking down Emeq Refa’im Street in Jerusalem and we noticed that a restaurant that had been there for many years was closing down, and there were signs up that it was going to be replaced by a French patisserie. I gave a sarcastic grin and said, “Thank God for French antisemitism.”
I hope that many Jews from France will make aliyah, but I really wish it were more about coming to Israel than about fleeing France. :-/