French Immigrants To Israel Bring Part Of Home With Them : Parallels French Jews, many with roots in North Africa, have immigrated to Israel since the country's founding. Unlike previous generations, the latest wave of arrivals is retaining more of its French identity.
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French Immigrants To Israel Bring Part Of Home With Them

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French Immigrants To Israel Bring Part Of Home With Them

French Immigrants To Israel Bring Part Of Home With Them

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Following last week's terror attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told French Jews Israel is your home. He pledged to help more of them immigrate to Israel. It's something French Jews have been doing since the founding of Israel, and their community in the Jewish state has changed over time. NPR's Emily Harris has this report.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: 28-year-old Samuela Mass left Paris last October. He immigrated to Israel to escape violence.

SAMUELA MASS: For a better life for me and my future family because with the anti-Semitism in Paris, it's progressive and extremely virulent.

HARRIS: Although Israel as a nation features frequent attacks, he says he feels more secure here because he's not part of a minority. But French immigration wasn't always connected with security. When Avi Zana came in the 1970s, nothing was driving him from Paris, something was drawing him to Israel. At that time, he says, most French Jews moved to Israel for ideological reasons.

AVI ZANA: They built their identity in Israel. They learned the language, they decide to be Israeli. That was then the model of absorption to take a Jew from all over the world and to transform it into an Israeli people.

HARRIS: Zana runs an organization to help French immigrants adjust in Israel. But he says as more come, they are staying more French.

ZANA: In the last 15 years, we have some - I will not say ghetto, but I would say neighborhood - of French people who develop and copy a good part of their way from France.

HARRIS: Over almond croissant and pear tart at a Tel Aviv cafe, writer and filmmaker Stephane Belaisch says much of his life still revolves around France.

STEPHANE BALAISCH: I write in France so I need to stay connected. I don't know so many people who totally integrate the Israeli world of business and work with Israelis.

HARRIS: Many French business owners fly back and forth or manage remotely. Many French call centers have sprung up in Israel. Balaisch immigrated 10 years ago, but still calls himself a Frenchman living in Israel.

BALAISCH: I consider myself as a French living in Israel. I think I will never be Israeli. I didn't share the army. I didn't share a lot of things with the Israeli society. And I spend the majority of my life in France. So I have a France culture, and there is nothing I can do about that.

HARRIS: A majority of French Jews - in both France and Israel - have roots in North Africa. Some say that makes Israel's Mediterranean lifestyle familiar. 51-year-old Avraham Azoulay was born in Morocco and moved to Toulouse, France, as a child. He felt his heritage set him apart.

AVRAHAM AZOULAY: (Speaking Hebrew) (Through interpreter). When I came to Toulouse, I felt first and foremost a Jew. But everybody told me you're Moroccan, so I said I'm French. Later, they said you are a Jew. Israel is the only place I can be a Jew and an Israeli. I feel like I arrived at the right place.

HARRIS: Azoulay started a French-language magazine covering Israel, and recently began dabbling in politics. He says there are enough French here now that they can change Israel.

AZOULAY: (Speaking Hebrew) (Through interpreter) If you live here as a Jew, this is your country and you have to be part of it. You have to take action - not like in France when we looked at things from the outside. Here we are inside. We have to be involved.

HARRIS: Azoulay is politically right wing, like most French Israelis now. Some French here say the community could become more liberal if France feels unsafe for a wider variety of Jews. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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