Loud, brash and a little too Jewish for some tastes, France's Sephardi community has been moving to London over the past decade. With antisemitism on the rise, the UK can expect more Feujs, as they call themselves. Michelle Huberman reports in Jewish News:
Michelle Huberman: I felt I was living in 'North Africa'
Many years ago I was part of their
parents’ community in Paris. I lived there through the 1980′s. It was a
total culture change from my Hampstead Garden Suburb upbringing and I
often felt that I was living in North Africa rather than France.
I worked in the bustle of the Sentier
(the fashion district) where entrepreneurial Jewish immigrants from
Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria mixed happily with Muslims from the same
These were the good times – when the
Jews had expressed support for the Arab immigrants and the campaign
“Touche Pas A Mon Pote – Do Not Touch My Buddy”.
I look back affectionately at how I was
adopted by the matriarchs of both the Jewish and Muslim communities and
found myself loving their culture and picking up Arab slang as well as
That Sephardi community had an amazing
energy and worked hard to re-establish themselves in their new country –
having left North Africa in the 50′s and early 60′s when France
granted those countries independence.
My generation who had left as kids had
good memories of their childhoods, but the older generation remembered
the times before the French arrived when there was persecution of the
The communities from those three
countries all had different experiences of departure, but one thing was
clear, even when they were living well in Morocco, Jews felt insecure
without French protection. Algerian Jews had French citizenship and most
of the 140,000 strong community moved to France.
The Tunisian and Moroccan communities
(100, 000 and 250,000 respectively) underwent an utter breakup of
families. Those that had the money went to France and Canada whilst the
others went to Israel and faced harsh conditions.
Many didn’t stick the tough life in Israel and left later to join family in France and Canada who were faring better.
They were not warmly received by the
established French Ashkenazi community – many of them survivors from the
Holocaust – who saw them as loud and brash and just a little too
The Ashkenazim had learnt to hide their
Judaism – no outward signs nor mezuzot on the doors. After all – these
had marked them out for deportation. But the Sephardim were the
opposite: deeply religious and proud Zionists.
Spurred on by the Lubavitcher movement,
they were going to revive and transform the French Jewish community.
With their large families they soon swelled the 180,000 – strong postwar
community to 600, 000.
As much as the Jewish establishment
didn’t warm to them, the younger generation did. For most Ashkenazi
families, either your children married out or into a Sephardi family.
Like so many immigrant communities
before them, they were determined to better themselves and make sure
their children had a good education. But as they prospered, few
purchased property in the city, preferring to rent their homes.
They had experienced losing property in
North Africa and still lived with the mentality of the ready-packed
suitcase. The exception was a holiday home: families saved for an
apartment in Juan-les-Pins where the whole community went en masse for
the summer vacation.
But in the mid 90′s something changed. The second generation Maghrebi Muslims who lived in the banlieues started identifying themselves with the Palestinians.
They labelled as Zionists their Jewish
neighbours and turned their anger on them. France was no longer a
comfortable place for the community.
Their choice for vacations changed from
Juan-les-Pins to Netanya. Most already had family in Israel and
realised it was their future.
Israel was where they would invest
their money. Breadwinners sent their wives and children to live in
Israel but would still run their businesses in France, choosing to
commute for weekends – the Boeing aliya.
In Israel they have made their impact :
thousands of French tourists spend the summer months there. I once
again hear derogatory adjectives used against them: loud and brash and
maybe a little too Jewish. But this entrepreneurial and educated aliyah
is actually the biggest gift to Israel.
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