• The funeral procession for Yoav Hattab

    Funeral procession for Yoav Hattab

    Ido Erez, YNet ©
  • Ilanit Kourchia reflects on the condition of French Jewry today.

    Ilanit Kourchia reflects on the condition of French Jewry today.

    נתן רועי, נתן רועי ©
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Yoav Hattab is Brought to Rest After Paris Attack: Ilanit Kourchia Remembers

Ilanit Kourchia, director of French Taglit-Birthright – a subsidiary of The Jewish Agency – is a French native who made Aliyah to Israel. En route to the funeral of the four victims of the Paris attack this past week, she speaks to us candidly about the condition of the French Jewish community today. Yoav Hattab, one of the victims, was a participant on Kourchia’s program – he was considering making Aliyah when he returned to Paris, but was murdered on the eve of the Sabbath in the kosher supermarket. He was buried today in Jerusalem, along the three other victims.

Ilanit Kourchia begins with a story. As a child in Nice, France, she had always been interested in Jewish life in Tunis; when she met a young Tunisian Jewish girl who arrived in Paris, the girl told  her that on the plane she was told by a young man, “You are coming to France, my sister. Take the Star of David off your neck. You are coming to France – you are no longer in Tunis.”

This says it all, Ilanit tells me.

Yoav Hattab, the son of the Tunisian rabbi, came to Israel on a French Taglit trip, one of thousands of youths who arrive every year to Israel through Taglit-Birthright.

Ilanit, who works with French Jewish youth, insists that the program does not persuade the youth to make Aliyah. But after many meetings with participants of French Taglit, Ilanit says that she has never heard so many young people saying: I want to return to Israel, I am thinking of living there.

There is something very troubling happening to the Jews of France in the past few years, she tells me. “And it started long before this week’s events in Paris. Lately, I’ve been talking to young Taglit participants, after their trip, and asking them what they remembered most from their time in Israel. In the past, they always mentioned visiting the Western Wall or hiking up Masada, but lately, conversations have turned to their volunteering experiences in Israeli homes for the elderly, where they saw the culture of social responsibility in Israel, and the spontaneous dances in the streets with Breslov Chasidim, where they were shocked by the freedom, the opportunity to show their Judaism openly.”

Ilanit asked the students – What impressed them more?

And they answered, “The dancing in the streets. The ability to dance freely, proudly, without having to hide that you are Jewish, without having to look left and right. This is something that could never happen in France.

The fact that Jews come to Israel and marvel over the freedom to be openly Jewish, in 2015, only reflects the serious problems which face the Jews of France today.

“I always tell them,” Ilanit says, “Don’t make Aliyah to Israel just because of security problems. Because in Israel too there are security concerns. Rather, make Aliyah from deeper reasons, like that freedom to be Jewish in your own home and in the streets as well.”

For years, the students have repeatedly told her that they don’t walk in the streets with a yarmulke on their heads, because it endangers them – ever since the murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006, the 2012 shooting in the Toulouse Jewish school, and recent anti-Semitic movements growing in Paris.

What do you think will happen when they arrive in Israel? Will they integrate?

They say that the Jewish mentality is to work hard and succeed. I remember the interview of the French Jewish actor Claude Lalouch, telling of their small house, his mother who supported them by working as a seamstress, and who in the end succeeded because of this French Jewish mentality – given that most of our community is immigrant.

The Jews in France have done well there, and I have no doubt they will succeed in Israel too.

But there are French Jews who resent the calls for Aliyah, because it is not their only option. And I try to understand that – if something happens to your brother, do you not approach him and invite him to your home? For me, I am on my way to the funerals today in Jerusalem…and I connect to this national tragedy in my very blood, as a Frenchwoman who made Aliyah to Israel, I connect to my people and my land from the bottom of my soul.

I was in the Rambam school in Belgium; the school is heavily fortified. I went through heavy security to enter the school, with armed guards all around. I saw images of the Yavneh school in Paris online, and the images are shocking. It’s hard to imagine going to school with the feeling that security is shaky. It’s terrible that we have only been jolted awake now.

There is an understanding amongst us, among Jews: Something is happening in Europe, and we Jews in Israel cannot close our eyes to this. It’s unclear to me why some French Jews are convinced that Israelis calling for Aliyah are doing so out of line – on the contrary, this is an extraordinary thing for the best.

13 Jan 2015 / 22 Tevet 5775 0
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נתן רועי

נתן רועי נולד ביפו להורים שעלו ב"עליית גומולקה"; בעל השכלה וניסיון של למעלה משלושים וחמש שנות כתיבה תחקיר ועריכה עיתונאית הן בעיתונות הכתובה, בטלוויזיה הישראלית וברדיו (גל"צ); פרסם בישראל 18 ספרים בתחומי צבא ובטחון והחברה הישראלית; מרצה בנושאי תקשורת והיסטוריה הן ברמה אקדמית והן בפני קהל;מחבר תכניות חינוכיות הן בתחום ידיעת ארץ ישראל והן בתחום ההיסטוריה של ישראל; נמנה על צוות ההקמה של "תגלית" ומחבר תכנית היסוד של "תגלית" ב 1995; בעל שלושה תארים : משפטן Llb , היסטוריה ופילוסופיה,תואר ראשון ותואר שני Summa cum Laude; זכה בפרס של תנועת "סובלנות" (1987 ) בראשות נשיא המדינה אפרים קציר ומיכל זמורה-כהן על מאבקו העיתונאי למען חסידי אומות העולם בישראל ומתן מעמד מיוחד להם ולבני משפחותיהם במוסדות המדינה; זכה בפרס של מכון שכטר ( JTS ) בירושלים על הישגיו בלימודי התואר השני בהיסטוריה ופילוסופיה ובמלגה מטעם המכון בסיום לימודיו. נשוי באושר ואב לחמישה ילדים.