French olim: Safe in Israel


Among news consumers, the first association one has with the State of Israel is often war and religious violence. However, for many Jews who choose to make aliyah, the Jewish state is considered to be the safest place to live freely and without concerns about anti-Semitism.

Such is the case for Rachel, 34, and Teddy Gnassia, 35, who are certain that their children will be safer living and going to Jewish school in Israel as opposed to their home country of France.

With their three children — Meir, 10; Liam, 7; and Lana, 3 — the Gnassias moved to Israel last week with 80 others French Jews. They were among 200 olim from France, Russia, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela who arrived on special flights organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The newcomers were greeted at Ben Gurion Airport with a festive reception hosted by the Jewish Agency, the Israeli Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, and Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal.

“We’re also celebrating the arrival of the thousands of new olim arriving in Israel this summer,” said Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency. “I’m especially excited to welcome home two families who made a long and secretive journey from Venezuela.”

A day before their move to Netanya, a coastal city north of Tel Aviv known for having a large French expat community, Rachel told JNS that “Israel is already our home.”

“France has done a lot for us — we grew up there — but today, things are different,” she explained. “In many French cities, it’s difficult as a Jew. I don’t want my children to grow up or stay there. The future is not in France; it is in Israel. And now is the time to move when they are young.”

 “It’s a very complicated situation [in Europe] with anti-Semitism,” Teddy said. “We lived in a well-off neighborhood in France, which was like a cocoon, but lately, we have seen more and more anti-Semitism coming to the community, and we aren’t vaccinated for it. In Israel, we will worry less about security.”

“If something bad happens in Israel, everyone jumps to help each other and for the security of the kids,” Rachel noted. “But [in France], there are people roaming the street looking to harm Jewish children.”

Rachel looks forward to reuniting with her parents, who immigrated to Israel from France 15 years ago, as well as enrolling her children in the Israeli education system, where they will learn Hebrew and Jewish subjects.

“My parents are happy about our aliyah, mostly for our children, because they understand that they will have a bright future in Israel,” said Teddy.

Seven-year-old Liam said he looked forward to being with his extended family but lamented, “It’s complicated because I don’t understand and speak Hebrew.”

“We expect various difficulties, including finding work, learning the language and understanding how everyday life works, seemingly small yet important things will also be different,” acknowledged Rachel. “Everything will be new, but we are making the first steps to be able to stay there forever, and I hope that we succeed.”

“The most important thing for the family will be to learn Hebrew as soon as possible to make sure the kids feel good,” said Teddy. “I hope that after one year, we will be well-integrated and living like Israelis, rather than just French people in Israel.”

At the arrival ceremony at the airport, the Gnassia family received their new identification cards in front of the audience of hundreds of new immigrants, dignitaries, supporters and family members. As a band played Israeli music in Hebrew, they sang and danced, and reunited with her family, as well as their new family: the people of Israel.

“At every step of the journey, as you start your new life in Israel, remember that we truly live in privileged times,” Sam Grundwerg, world chairman of Keren Hayesod-UIA, said at the ceremony. “As you build your lives in Israel, you will all contribute so much in your own individual way, to Israel’s continued success.”

“The Jewish Agency works around the clock all over the world, including in countries with complicated geopolitical and security challenges, to ensure the safety and security of Jews everywhere [and] will help these new immigrants … become part of the rich mosaic of Israeli life,” Herzog said at the ceremony.

Among other dignitaries who welcomed the olim were Minister of Aliyah and Integration Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yoav Gallant and Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef.

Material from the Jewish Agency was added to this report.