Bienvenue en Israel!

Bienvenue en Israel!


Boules is a quintessentially French game, and France’s Jewish migrants have brought it with them to Netanya.

The Mediterranean city north of Tel Aviv has become the semi-official capital of the French community with patisseries, cafes and even a boules club in a local square.

With anti-Semitism rising in France, and their worries stoked by this month's killing of four Jews in a kosher supermarket in Paris, French Jews now make up the largest group of new migrants to Israel.

. NETANYA, Israel. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Some 7,000 people arrived in 2014, double 2013's figure. That is expected to rise again this year, with up to 15,000 French making "Aliyah" — the process of moving, or literally "ascending,” to Israel.

For Jews coming to "the Jewish state," the move may bring relief, but it also raises challenges: a new language and culture, unfamiliar social codes and the difficulty of finding a job.

. JERUSALEM, Israel. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Newly-arrived immigrants from France (from left to right) Jonathan Arbibe and Samuel Chemama and Alexandre Pequito, both of whom are from Paris, study Hebrew at Ulpan Etzion.

Many young graduates and professionals arriving for the first time head straight for Ulpan Etzion, the original residential school and absorption center that has taught Hebrew to tens of thousands of arrivees since 1949.

As well as learning Hebrew students build a social network among their classmates, nearly all of whom are single and must be aged 22-35. Engagements and marriages are common.

. JERUSALEM, Israel. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Newly-arrived immigrants from France, Charly Nahmani (C), David Gurion and his sister Saloma (R), take a break from Hebrew class

A large number of the current class of 250 are French. They cite the steady rise of anti-Semitism in their birth country as the spur for them to move.

Besides the Paris killings, people recall the attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, and the kidnapping, torture and death of Ilan Halimi, a French-Moroccan Jew, in 2006.

While there is relief at being able to wear a Star of David or a kippah in Israel without fear, there is keen awareness too of the challenges related to finding work and coping with the high cost of living, the insecurity created by the conflict with the Palestinians.

. NETANYA, Israel. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Relaxing on the beach, Jewish tourists from France say they plan to move to Israel.

Many French Jews came in retirement for the sun and sea and don't speak Hebrew. Some still return to France regularly or even semi-commute - earning the label "Boeing Aliyah."

. NETANYA, Israel. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
A member of the French community sits in a patisserie.

Jerome Bonnenfant, 38, moved with his wife and family two years ago and has set up a patisserie in the centre of town.

"I thought it would be easier than it's been," he said. "It's been hard, you've really got to stick at it."