France’s Jews are more religious, feel less safe

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A comprehensive survey of France’s large Jewish community tells of lives lived in fear: two-thirds feel threatened and around half have been physically or verbally attacked.

Yaniv Pohoryles

Jews in France live in fear of Islamic terror but are not prepared to hide their faith,
according to a recent comprehensive survey of France’s large Jewish community.

Most French Jews define themselves as religious or traditional, according to the survey, and nearly 50 percent of young male Jews wear a yarmulke.

The statistics, published by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP), also revealed that 53 percent of France’s half a million Jews lead a religious lifestyle to some degree or other – and that the level of observance increases as their age goes down.

Thus, for example, 41 percent of male Jews aged 35 and under responded that they cover their head according to tradition – a significantly higher proportion than older respondents.

According to the researchers, this points to the community’s continued isolation in the face of the changing social climate in France. The older generation was more secular and identified more with the values of the French Republic, whereas the younger generation adhered more to Judaism, maintaining a religious lifestyle and sending their children to separate educational institutions.

Differences between the various groups were also, naturally, expressed in their contrasting approaches to Jewish religious holidays, but the researchers said that aliyah to Israel was also a meaningful indicator. For example, 69 percent of religious respondents expressed readiness to leave France for Israel, compared to 29 percent of France’s secular Jews.

Another section of the survey dealt with French Jews’ personal safety. Sixty-eight percent of respondents agreed that they do not feel safe in the country, with 40 percent saying that they see Islam as a threat (compared to 32 percent of the general population).

Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said that the increase in the number of Muslims and the activities of extreme right- and left-wing activists had created an atmosphere of racism and discrimination against Jews.

Reports from the ground back up their sense of hostility: 63 percent said that they had been insulted at least once because of their Jewishness, 51 percent had been threatened and 43 percent had been physically assaulted.

In total, 87 percent are worried by the wave of Islamic terrorism that has struck France.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they had family members or friends who had left France over the last few years, most of them for Israel, and they estimate that around 30 percent of them are happier than they were before they left.

Among those who made aliyah to Israel, around half did so in order to increase their feeling of personal safety. Only nine percent moved for ideological reasons. According to researcher Dr. Dov Mimoun, “this proves that Zionism alone is no longer enough these days.”

Currently around half of France’s Jews – about 250,000 people – are considering emigration. Of those, about a quarter are looking to countries such as the US, Canada and the UK, and 20 percent (100,000 people) are considering Israel.

Mimoun identifies in these statistics “tremendous potential for a wave of aliyah, which would be the first in history to arrive from a developed Western country.

“In order to make that happen, we must put in place a strategy that will make it easier for olim to continue working in their professional fields here, and propose a package that will make it attractive for businesses to bring their centers of operation to Israel from France,” Mimoun continued.

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