Helping a French Couple Move to Israel: The Amazing Work of the Jewish Federation
Photography provided by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati
The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati is proud to announce that their 2017 Campaign Chair is Debbie Brant, an extraordinary community leader who genuinely cares about making the community better. Currently a vice-president on the Federation Board, Debbie has been president of the Mayerson JCC, is an alumna of the National Young Leadership Cabinet, and has served as a lay leader at the Federation in many roles.
This past July 12, at Lucien de Hirsch High School in Paris, I helped give out passports and plane tickets to Jewish French families who had made the momentous decision to immigrate, or make aliyah, to Israel.
I felt privileged – I had two passports in my hand, two plane tickets, all the paperwork – but I couldn’t find my couple. The room was in happy chaos with people singing and dancing. Emotion filled the air. I looked at the passport names, which read “Cohen,” and the photos. I weaved my way through the Israeli flags, blue and white balloons and cheerful crowd – over 200 strong – celebrating this collective achievement.
Despite nametags everywhere, it took me thirty minutes to find them. They were a lovely, friendly couple – maybe in their sixties – who appeared a bit overwhelmed. I asked if they were happy, and in halting, accented English the husband told me that they were.
This amazing experience encapsulates for me what the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati does: it helps those in trouble or who are vulnerable, fights anti-semitism, strengthens Jewish identity and empowers the Jewish community and Israel. Here it all was in these expressive faces. Most of the families had children, and I knew a long road of Hebrew instruction, acculturation and adventure was ahead for them. But I also knew that we, through our partner agency, Jewish Agency for Israel, were going to help them every step of the way.
I was here because this July I joined 110 other Jewish Federation leaders from 35 different communities on the Campaign Chairs and Directors mission trip, organized by the Jewish Federations of North America. We visited key programs and met local leaders and individuals helped by our Federations through the Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).
Currently 500,000 Jews live in France. In 2015, a record 8,000 French Jews immigrated to Israel. The process can be difficult. While some come with resources, many do not, so the Jewish Agency helps with absorption and integration into Israel, especially for young families and elderly couples.
Not everyone wants to leave. Some strongly believe in the French community and feel accepted. Our job for them is to help build strong communities. Paris, for example, supports a vibrant community with many synagogues and actually has more kosher restaurants than New York, However, the communities outside of Paris are starting to shrink. Some are making what they call a petit aliyah by moving to Paris.
In France, Jews are 2 percent of the population, but the victims of 50 percent of hate crimes. There is tight security at Jewish institutions and tensions are high. We visited a school that experienced anti-Semitic riots in 2014. We visited the Hyper Cacher market in Paris where the terrorist attack took place in January 2015, and I was honored to be the group’s representative, shopping there to show our collective support.
Overall I found that our ongoing job is to provide resilience – to give Jews in need or under pressure the tools to live as Jews and to have a choice.
As our mission flew to Israel, we were able to have the Debache family – one of the families from that first crazy, wonderful ceremony – fly with us: a couple and their four children. We said a Shehecheyanu, a blessing for new or special occasions, with them on the plane.
In Tel Aviv, I visited an internet startup, Viewly, with two Cincinnati Onward Israel interns, who happened to be from Cincinnati, both students at OSU. Cincinnati Onward Israel, a program of the Jewish Agency, is an 8-week internship in the field of your choice. They were having the time of their lives, touring with the program and meeting Israelis through their jobs doing interesting work. We also toured an Ethiopian restaurant, GOJO, which is now regarded as the number one Ethiopian restaurant in Tel Aviv, which started with a small loan from the Joint Distribution Committee.
We saw the Debache family again at the end of our trip as they got settled at a Jewish Agency absorption center. Along with the rest of us from Cincinnati, I got the chance to bring them a mezuzah, notebooks, pens, folders – everything their four kids would need to start the school year.
Everything I saw reinforces why we do what we do at the Jewish Federation. It’s part of why I believe strongly in our Annual Campaign. I believe that asking people to contribute is giving them a chance to give to something they believe in. I saw so much to believe in on this trip, and I look forward to sharing it as we work for our community in the coming year.
The Jewish Federation of Cincinnati is located at 8499 Ridge Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236. For more information, call 513.985.1500, email email@example.com or visit JewishCincinnati.org.