Simon and Alice Midal are making aliya from France on Wednesday because of antisemitism.. (photo credit: ILANIT CHERNICK)
PARIS – “We’re leaving because of the situation for the Jews in France,” said Simon and Alice Midal, long-time residents of Levallois-Perret, a wealthy suburb northwest of Paris.
At 76 years old, the couple has decided it is time to bid adieu to France, and will be on a flight together with some 100 immigrants leaving on Wednesday
A delegation of journalists on a tour with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) met with the couple – pillars of the Jewish community here – on Tuesday.
After working in leadership positions within several Jewish organizations including B’nai B’rith, the European Jewish Congress and the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, Midal said the rising tide of antisemitism in France has made him and his wife realize that it was time to leave.
Both were born in Switzerland in 1943, where their Parisian parents had fled to escape the Holocaust.
“We’re both retired, but we’re very proud Zionists,” he explained. “We were in youth movements and the Jewish scouts, all which were very Zionistic.”
Midal said antisemitism in France has become catastrophic, and that notwithstanding laws against racism, including antisemitism, there is little enforcement.
“Working for these groups, I see day-to-day what is happening in France,” he said, adding that the government “is not doing anything to fight against racism, antisemitism, violence and the praise of Islamic extremism in France.” This, he said, was a difficult situation for the Jewish community.
“We’re not waiting for the municipal elections” in 2020 the couple said, explaining that more Muslims will likely be elected leading to elements of Sharia law being enacted because of the growing Muslim population.
“This will cause problems for the Jews,” he said. “Already in places like Les Mattes there are public schools that will not serve pork… Pork is a main addition to dishes in France, and here the public schools can’t serve it.”
In Aulnay-sous-Bois, he said, the city’s swimming pool has been closed because the municipality elected several years ago demanded the pool be open on specific days for Muslim women only.
Midal said that this is one of his biggest concerns, along with the rise in antisemitism, and that he was not optimistic that issues of racism, including antisemitism, would be solved because of President Emmanuel Macron’s close economic ties with Arab countries.
“France’s economy comes first before anything,” he stressed.
Asked about the future of the Jews in France, the couple expressed that they were not optimistic that the issues would be solved unless there “is some sort of effective intervention.
“The government and public powers must do something to fight all forms of racism in France,” Simon said, adding that despite being Zionistic, they probably wouldn’t leave France if the situation for Jews wasn’t this bad.
Alice Midal added that their children were surprised by their decision, with her son saying that they haven’t been exposed to much antisemitism.
Teddy and Rochelle Gnassia will also be arriving on Wednesday, making aliyah to give their three children – between three and 10 – a chance for a better life.
Sitting on the terrace of her parents’ holiday home in the countryside, Rochelle, 34, cited two reasons for making aliyah.
“The first is that there’s been a change in the French population in how Jews are viewed, a change in the security situation,” she said. “The second is that the education is more open-minded in Israel. Here it’s very closed and strict. Children are sent in the direction of becoming doctors, dentists and lawyers, but in Israel it’s different.”
Rochelle added that her father is Israeli, and that her entire family is already living in Israel apart from her older brother.
“He hopes to come soon,” she said. “He’s very religious, more than us. We keep Shabbat and the holidays, kosher, and the children were in a Jewish school.”
The Gnassias plan to live in Netanya, where the rest of her immediate family lives.
Asked about challenges they may face in Israel, both Rochelle and her husband said they are concerned about finding work, and the language barrier.
“Our first step is to learn Hebrew so we can get good jobs,” Teddy said. “We hope that within a year we will be integrated in Israel. We want to be Israeli, not French people just living in Israel.”
Rochelle added that everything is going to be new to them, “even the smallest of things, including food.”
Teddy said that the family comes from a good neighborhood in Paris, but antisemitism has been creeping in. This, together with security concerns for their children who study at a Jewish school, led to their decision to move to Israel.
“I started seeing graffiti [against Jews] near the school… We realized that despite being in a good neighborhood where we were very cacooned, we are not vaccinated against antisemitism.”
He added that even the language in the recent demonstrations against Macron, which had nothing to do with the Jews, was antisemitic.
The children said they had mixed feelings about the move, as it’s not easy to leave their friends and life here behind.
Tears streaming down his face, their middle son Liam, who is seven, shared how he is nervous about aliyah.
“I don’t know Hebrew,” he said, hugging his mother. “It’s stressful.”
However, he and his parents concurred that they are excited to be living by the sea and to be close to their grandparents.
Teddy added that when he was a child, it was his parents’ dream to make aliyah.
“Theye wanted to give us a better life,” he said. “They’re happy for me and for my children that we’re finally fulfilling this dream.”
A JAFI statement said that “onboard this ‘Flight of the Century’ will be mainly young families from Paris who will be absorbed throughout the country, and a number of unmarried women” who will be absorbed at Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem.
“The youngest immigrant on the flight from France is two months old, and along with him there are 35 other children who will take the flight to begin kindergarten and school” after the summer vacation.
“The immigration flight from France symbolizes the beginning of the ‘Aliyah season,’ in which thousands of new immigrants from all over the world will arrive in Israel this summer with the assistance of the Jewish Agency,” it added, citing a statistic that 37,000 of the 119,000 French citizens who immigrated to Israel since the establishment of the State came via the assistance of the Jewish Agency.
JAFI chairman Isaac Herzog said he was looking forward to seeing “the joy of the hundreds of immigrants who are making the journey from France to the State of Israel, their historic home, and opening a new chapter in their lives.”
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