As a fellow recent immigrant to Israel, I can understand the pull to the only Jewish state in the world. Yet I cannot understand the daily fear that many French people feel in their own country. I was motivated to make aliyah for positive reasons, and it was difficult to leave my comfortable life in America. But the reality for many of the French people who make aliyah is different. They are motivated by negative reasons—to escape the unstable conditions for Jews back home.
I came to ulpan hoping I would hear from the young French people positive reasons for making aliyah. Unfortunately, they reported mostly negative motivations for making aliyah—that they are scared to identify as a Jew in France, that many of them can only dream of walking in Paris wearing a kippah in plain sight.
At my ulpan, the director made his rounds to every classroom on the Sunday following the attacks. He expressed his deep sorrow for the deadly attacks and checked in with the many French students who still have family in Paris. He stated that there are so many French people in Israel that French might as well be Israel’s second language. And with the high percentage of French students in Israel and in our ulpan, the attacks have hit very close to home.
I’ve gotten a sense in Israel that with this great tragedy also comes the hope that it will be the wake-up call that spurs the international community into action against Islamic State terrorism.
Another consideration that Israelis express is the question of why the world does not place as much importance on the Islamic terrorism that Israel faces every day. There are indeed fewer casualties in attacks against Israel compared to the massacre in France, most likely because of the strong security Israel has maintained—a trend that has been developed precisely because terrorism against Israeli citizens is a daily threat. But why does it take a mass attack in a European city for the world to mobilize? What about the attacks in Israel, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and the many other places that have been attacked by Islamic State terrorists? Can it be that the only lives that matter are white, Anglo-Saxon, and Christian?
Many people ask me what I think about French people making aliyah out of fear. People make aliyah for many reasons and I don’t believe it is my place to judge. I believe that both negative and positive forces make the experience for all olim more informed. It exposes us to the diversity of experiences of Jews around the world, and I think that strengthens the Jewish community. I hope that some day there are only positive motivations for aliyah. But until then, I stand in solidarity with France, with those who have made aliyah from France, and with the many others who have suffered at the hands of Islamic State and Islamic terrorism.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her aliyah column on JNS.org, Facebook, and Instagram.