LA STAMPA

In New York, Signs Of A Quiet Exodus Of Jews From France

Last March's killings at a Jewish elementary school in Toulouse shocked many, but French Jews have been feeling less secure for years. Some leave, though security isn't the only reason.

Orthodox Jews at home in NYC
Orthodox Jews at home in NYC
Maurizio Molinari

NEW YORK - Every Saturday at around 12pm on the sidewalks of the Upper West Side you can hear French being spoken. It’s coming from groups of people who are coming out of the synagogues on 75th, 78th and 84th streets, where increasing numbers of French Jews are appearing each week.

They’re families with kids, young people, teachers and executives. The consulate on Fifth Avenue hasn’t estimated the exact numbers of this phenomenon but it’s definitely increasing. In the “Manhattan Day School” the teachers are showing the daughter of a family around, who just arrived with very few days warning.

Meanwhile, Alessia Lefebure, director of the “Alliance Program” between Columbia University in NYC and “Sciences Po” in Paris, speaks of “a notable number of Parisian Jewish teachers who want to teach here.” To understand what’s happening, we have to go to the Jewish Centre on 86th Street where, in March 2012, the Jewish New Yorkers urged their French counterparts to commemorate the victims of the shooting in the “Ozar Hatorah” school in Toulouse, where the jihadist Mohammed Merah killed a rabbi and three children.

Leading the ceremony was Zachary, 29, a transport manager from Strasbourg. “If New York is full of French Jews- he explains- it’s because in 2002, in connection with the second Palestinian Intifada, a season of physical aggression began towards us from the Arabs that still hasn’t stopped. It just brought the conflict from the Middle East onto our streets.”

More than 80% of the almost 600,000 French Jews -- France is the second highest community, apart from the US, outside of Israel -- come from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Sephardic families who had spent centuries in coexistance with Muslims were forced to leave the Maghreb because of Arabic pogroms in the 1950s and ‘60s and found in France an accord between monotheistic faiths. “The symptoms of Muslim intolerance against us began before 2002- adds Daniel, a French bank worker in Manhattan- but the second Intifada made the atmosphere asphyxiating”. “The killing of Ilan Halimi, 23, in February 2006 was the first shock. Then others followed suit,” explains David, father of two, from the Parisian suburb of Les Lilas. “When I was a school boy, 20% of the residents were Jewish, now there’s almost none of them still there.”

Moving away from France follows a path that Noam Ohana, manager of the BeaconLight Capital, describes as this: “We moved from the suburbs of Paris to the centre, to the 16th arrondissement, where there are more kosher restaurants than in Manhattan, after that the next step is Israel or New York.” Ohana’s theory that appears in his book “From Sciences Po to Tzahal (Israeli Defense Forces)”, is that the French Jews leave for reasons that include, but are not limited to, intolerance but also reasons that encourage people to leave the upper middle class, or better opportunities in respect to a society that no longer allows them to think big.” In other words: it’s France who has become weak.

What Zachary, Daniel, David and Noam have in common is that they all attended the public schools, formed by the “secular state” and they have realized that in the past 5-6 years it has changed because of the rampant religious controversies.

On mobile phones, some people have saved images of the Marseillaise singing throughout the “Stade de France” in August 2001, when a France-Algeria soccer match, friendly match meant to establish brotherhood between the two nations, broke down into pitch invasions and riots. They look at the event again and again, more and more incredulous for the “intolerance towards our nation.” David's sister was attacked in Nice by some Arabs. "Episodes that occur continuously in the streets or in the subway - adds Aharon, a designer in a start-up - they force you to walk with your head down, put a hat on to conceal the kippah." The response from the police is to "often not classify the attacks as anti-Semitism but as robberies or violence" which conceals the true extent of the phenomenon.

Political sympathies are halfway between right and left. Ohana knows that from within Hollande’s Socialists "there is a determination to ensure greater security for the Jews," but whether they can be convinced to go back to France, there are many who are cautious: "They can not control the aspirations of people, Jewish or not, who want to go elsewhere to pursue their dreams." Aharon is more concrete: "Finding a job in a corporation in France for practising orthodox Jews is impossible but in New York, you do not even need to explain it. Everyone knows that on Yom Kippur, on religious holidays, or on Saturdays we do not work." The result is that Paris has become a city that Jews leave quietly but continuously, carrying on their traditions and symbols elsewhere. Like the jerseys of the “Menorah FC" who play in Harlem, they’re helping to shape the identity of a France, where Muslims increase whilst Jews decrease.

There are nearly 600,000 French Jews, accounting for the third-highest Jewish population in the world after the U.S. and Israel. More than 80% of Jews in France come from backgrounds in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria -- Sephardic families who had spent centuries in peaceful coexistance with Muslims until they were forced to leave the Maghreb because of Arabic pogroms in the 1950s and 1960s.

A turning point

The anti-Semitic torture and killing of Ilan Halimi, 23, in February 2006 was "the first shock," recalled David, father of two, from the Parisian suburb of Les Lilas. "Then others followed....When I was a school boy, 20% of the residents were Jewish, now there’s almost none of them still there.”

Moving away from France follows a path that Noam Ohana, the manager of BeaconLight Capital, describes in his book: “From Sciences Po to Tzahal (Israeli Defense Forces).” He says French Jews move from the provinces to the center of Paris, then to the 16th arrondissement (neighborhood), "where there are more kosher restaurants than Manhattan" -- After that, "the next step is Israel or New York.”

Ohana says that French Jews actually leave for a variety of reasons that include, but are not limited to, intolerance. "There are other motivations...to pursue better opportunities in respect to a society that no longer allows them to think big.” In other words: it’s France itself that has become weak.

What most New York transplants have in common is that they attended the public schools, formed by the “secular state,” but they have realized that in the past 5-6 years that it has changed because of the rampant religious controversies.

Aharon, a designer in a start-up says the tension "forces you to walk with your head down, put a hat on to conceal the kippah." He says police too often classify attacks as simple robberies or assaults, rather than hate crimes, underplaying the extent of anti-Semitism.

Aharon is more concrete: "Finding a job in a corporation in France for a practicing Orthodox Jew is impossible, but in New York, you do not even need to explain it. Everyone knows that on Yom Kippur, on religious holidays, or on Saturdays we do not work."

The result is that Paris is now a place that Jews are quietly, but steadily leaving, helping to change the identity of France where the number of Muslims continues to grow.

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January 22-23

  • Navalny saga & Putin’s intentions
  • COVID’s toll on teenage girls
  • A 50-year-old book fee finally gets paid
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two words did U.S. President Joe Biden use about possible scenarios in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that upset authorities in Kyiv?

2. What started to mysteriously appear on signs, statues and monuments across Adelaide, Australia?

3. What cult movie did U.S. rocker Meat Loaf, who died Friday at age 74, star in?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Toxic geopolitics: More than ever, we need more women world leaders

The world is watching the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening an invasion finds an ally in Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi, united against their common enemy: the United States. Back in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden — marking his first year in power with painfully low approval rates (higher only than Donald Trump’s) — sends his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Kyiv to reassure President Volodymyr Zelensky who worries that France’s Emmanuel Macron might undermine Ukraine. And we haven’t even mentioned Xi Jinping!

It’s an endless theater of world leaders beating their respective chests — and they have exactly one thing in common: they’re all men. It’s by now a decades-old question, but worth asking again: What would happen if women, and not men, were running the world? Would there be less conflict, more prosperity? More humanity?

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that showed that “only 4% of signatories to peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women, and only 9% of the negotiators.” The report shows that in several conflict zones in the world in recent decades, citing Liberia, Northern Ireland and Colombia, women have been instrumental in achieving peace.

In Colombia, where 20% of peace negotiators for the 2016 peace treaty were women, Ingrid Betancourt, herself a victim of the 50-year conflict, has announced her candidacy for the May presidential elections. Differently from previous bids, where she focused on fighting environmental abuses and corruption, Betancourt now is putting gender issues at the center of her political agenda. Bogota daily El Espectador questions whether the former hostage will be able to ride this important political wave, with feminist movements flexing their muscle around the region demanding more rights.

In Italy, next week’s elections for the head of state are monopolized by infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping to be elected for the seven-year, honorary function. There is no official candidacy, but Berlusconi’s name and that of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi are the two getting the most attention. Italian feminist writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini writes in La Stampa that, yes, the very fact of electing a female president will be progress for the country — and by the way, there are plenty of women qualifed for the job.

There was also a woman politician making the news this week for actually getting elected: Maltese conservative politician Roberta Metsola, became the new European Parliament President after the death of Italy’s David Sassoli. And yet the election of the first female president of the EU’s legislature since Nicole Fontaine in 2001 has been widely criticized by female politicians — primarily for Metsola’s stance against abortion rights. "I think it is a terrible sign for women's rights everywhere in Europe," French left-wing member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry told Deutsche Welle.

The women who have risen to power in history (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) don’t necessarily make the case that gender is the silver bullet to fix politics. Still, after watching all the toxic masculinity on the world stage this past week, we can rightfully demand fewer men.

Irene Caselli

🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Record-breaking online concert of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”: More than 100 musicians from around the world will take part today in a performance of Mahler’s epic 8th symphony consisting of 1,200 elements, including a double chorus, children’s choir, a full orchestra and an organ. The event is a culmination of a year of work; all artists recorded their parts in isolation besides the children’s choir. Tickets can be purchased here.

Yearly Japanese festival will set a mountain on fire: Today, the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama in Japan will go up in flames as fireworks go off in the background as part of celebrations for Wakakusa Yamayak. The origin of the festival isn’t totally clear, but might relate to border conflicts between the great temples in the region or to ward off wild boars.

• New insights into antiquities taken by the Nazis: Scholars are looking into how German forces during World War II looted artifacts such as on the Greek island of Crete. Nazi officials pillaged these valuables for their own personal gain, but many were also destroyed, which is why researchers around the world are hoping to gain greater insight into this often overlooked aspect of German occupation.

Exhibition of Beirut’s restored artwork: The Beirut Museum of Art has inaugurated the exhibition “Lift” featuring 17 paintings by Lebanese artists that had been damaged by the port explosion in 2020, and have since been restored as a result of a UNESCO initiative.

The world’s first vegan violin tunes up: Berries, pears and spring water are just some of the natural ingredients relied on for the construction of the instrument by English violin-maker Padraig O'Dubhlaoidh. Traditionally, animal parts like horsehair, hooves, horns and bones are used, especially to glue pieces together. The £8,000 instrument is sure to be music to some animal lover’s ears.

🇷🇺  NAVALNY SAGA & PUTIN’S INTENTIONS


One year ago anti-corruption lawyer and politician Alexei Navalny was detained in Russia, marking the effective end of domestic opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the time since, more than half of the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters fled Russia. Even Navalny's name is forbidden: Putin never says his name, calling him "this citizen."

At the same time, Navalny’s imprisonment and the de facto end of the opposition have changed Russia. The fear of persecution, the lack of alternatives and the total censorship and propaganda have caused Putin's ratings consistently downward.

An aging leader with no successors, no enemies and dwindling popular support is finding it increasingly difficult to explain why he must continue to rule forever. In such a situation, there’s nothing quite like an external threat to fuel the raison d’être of the authoritarian regime. In Putin’s eyes, the perfect threat right now is NATO expansion, and the perfect enemy is its neighbor Ukraine and its attempts to join the military alliance. Whether Russia's president is ready to engage in a real war is the great unknown, but its aggressive and uncompromising foreign policy — like his disposing of Alexei Navalny — is the latest legitimization of his increasingly absolutist rule now into its third decade.

Read the full story: What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine

🇨🇴  FROM HOSTAGE TO POTENTIAL HEAD OF STATE


Íngrid Betancourt spent more than six years as a prisoner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror group in Colombia, an experience that is sure to play a role in her recently announced presidential campaign. Betancourt, who is 60, is running as part of the Verde Oxígeno and is the only woman in the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), a centrist alliance.

Betancourt could be a boost for the coalition and embody its goals of transforming, overcoming polarization and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia. In particular, the centrist candidate who in the past has been largely focused on anti-corruption and environmental protection, has said she will make women’s rights a cornerstone of her campaign.

Read the full story: Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President

♀️ 😔  YOUNG WOMEN FACE THE BRUNT OF THE COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS


A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness among teen girls. These include rising suicide rates among adolescent females in the United States, Germany and Spain and a higher prevalence of anxiety and eating disorders in Israel. But why are women being disproportionately impacted?

There’s a range of reasons. In India, for example, young women had increased difficulty accessing education resources when schools went online and shared a disproportionate burden of household tasks as opposed to their male peers. Around the world, social media also played a significant role; without access to in-person socialization and hobbies, young people spent more time online, often comparing themselves to others, impacting feelings of self-worth. The situation is particularly dire given the challenges of accessing mental health support resources during the pandemic.

Read the full story: Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest

💡  BRIGHT IDEA


Norwegian mobility company Podbike has announced that Frikar, its four-wheeled enclosed electric bike, will soon hit bike lanes on home turf. The futuristic-looking vehicle does require the user to pedal, which powers a generator and drive-by-wire system that keep the Frikar running — with a speed limited to 25 km/h.

#️⃣ TRENDING

“Mãe De Bolsonaro” is the top query on Twitter in Brazil, after news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s mother Olinda Bonturi Bolsonaro had died at age 94.

😄📚 SMILE OF THE WEEK

Photo of the new President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

New President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA


London’s legendary bookshop Waterstones Gower Street tweeted a photo of a letter from an anonymous user confessing to having forgotten to pay for their books some 48 years ago. Owing approximately £100 ($136), adjusted for inflation, they had sent through £120 ($163) to make up for their tardiness. Touched by the kind gesture, the bookshop reciprocated by donating the money to the largest children’s reading charity in the United Kingdom.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Dottoré! is a weekly column on Worldcrunch.com by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Read more about the series here.

Bucket of tears

I’ve been thinking and thinking about a patient of mine since yesterday. His name is Giovanni.

Psychiatrists, you might not know, are quite often asked the same unanswerable question: "Why does one become insane?”

When I was younger, I searched and searched for an answer, losing myself in scientific explanations about synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters.

By the end of my studies, I’d realized that the only thing that was clear was that I’d been clutching at straws to justify my work and give it a semblance of scientific dignity. In the years since, I’ve forced myself, in defiance of the authority of my position, to reply with a laconic but honest: "Sorry, but I don't know."

So when Giovanni asked me that same question, he was not happy at all with my answer. “Dottoré, how’s it possible that you don't understand why I became crazy?”

When he tried to ask me again one day, I tried a different response:

"Giová, do you cry?"

"No. Why?"

"Imagine that the tears that you don't shed, that you force yourself not to shed, because that's what you've been taught to do, all end up inside your heart. The heart is an organ that pumps blood, which brings nourishment and oxygen to the whole body. But over time those diverted tears accumulate to the point that the heart begins to pump them instead of your blood. Slowly your body becomes sick, but the part that suffers the most is your brain. Because tears don't contain oxygen and nourishment, just sadness."

I expected a reaction to this fanciful explanation, but instead Giovanni kept quiet and eventually left.

The next time I saw him, he said: "Dottoré, I've thought about it. I know you told me about the tears to make me feel better, but maybe you’re right. Because sometimes I feel that I have a lake, more than a heart. But it takes a very powerful pump to pump out all that water, and my heart alone cannot do it. And now that you've explained to me how I became crazy, can you also tell me if I'll ever get better?"

"Do you want another story or do you want the truth?”

"This time, I’d rather have the truth!”

"The answer is always the same then. I'm sorry, Giová, but I don't know this either. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I'll help you slowly, slowly with just a bucket. Because the truth is, not even I have that pump."

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Italy's parliament will convene Monday to begin the process of voting for a new president to succeed Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term.

• Qualification games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 for South, North and Central America as well as Asia. Argentina’s national team will not be able to rely on superstar Lionel Messi, still recovering from COVID-19.

• Next Thursday will mark 100 years since Nellie Bly died. The American journalist is known for her record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889, inspired by Jules Vernes’ book Around the World in Eighty Days


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