Bonjour à Tel Aviv
How Mizrachi is supporting French Aliyah in Tel Aviv
By Rabbi Aron White
From Ishay Ribo to the proliferation of French restaurants all over, French Aliyah is making its mark on Israel – and on Tel Aviv most of all.
French Jewry, the third largest Jewish community in the world, has sent a wave of new olim to Israel over the last decade. From 2010 to 2019, 38,000 Jews made Aliyah from France – more than the total number of olim from the United States and Great Britain combined. Many of these olim have settled in Tel Aviv.
“French Jews arriving in Israel often experience a culture shock,” says Rabbi Yonatan Seror, rabbi of the Toldot Yitzchak shul in the heart of Tel Aviv. “They are used to a strong-knit community life, which often does not exist in Israel. Additionally, the religious categories used in Israeli society don’t really fit French Jews. Many French Jews are traditional, keeping Shabbat and kosher, and though they do not outwardly look religious, they get a shock when their children go to chiloni (secular) schools with Israeli children who have no religious background at all. My shul is 80% French olim, and there is a great need to support this community.”
World Mizrachi’s French Desk, led by Rav Avraham Dery, has been very active in supporting these developing communities. World Mizrachi has partnered with Qualita, the French equivalent to Nefesh B’Nefesh, providing programming and religious leadership for seven French oleh communities throughout Israel through the Kehilot Koltot program.
Rabbi Seror’s community in Tel Aviv is one of those communities. The shul is located in the heart of the city, right next to Kikar Rabin, and provides shiurim, activities and a sense of community for hundreds of French olim. Rabbi Seror and his wife Elisheva run events for all ages – from communal seder nights hosting over 100 people, to bar and bat mitzvah classes, and events for French gap year students living in Tel Aviv. French Jewry has a distinctly Sephardi and Moroccan flavor, and the hilula for the Baba Sali and Rav Yitzchak Kaduri are also important events.
Mizrachi is also working to connect Jews in France to Israel. Each year, World Mizrachi sends delegations of French rabbis from Israel to France where they support the Jewish community and build connections to Israel that encourage Aliyah. “There are two ways to encourage Aliyah – by speaking to Jews in chutz la’aretz and encouraging them to move to Israel, and by strengthening communities of Jews who have already made Aliyah,” said Roi Abecassis, Mizrachi’s head of the Department for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora at the World Zionist Organization. “When people know that there are strong communities to move to, it makes it more likely that they will come.”