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INTERVIEW France, the Temptation of Alyah

Eliette AbécassisBy Rachel Silvera

There is the temptation to leave and the concern to stay. Since the latest terror attacks last January at the newsroom of Charlie Hebdo and at the HyperCacher supermarket, the debate has been opened and it has reached all the Jewish communities in the diaspora: Should French Jews stay, wear kippas on their heads and fight for their national identity or should they move to Israel? The question seems to have two opposing responses: the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has invited all French Jews to hurry up and leave Europe, whereas the Chief Rabbi of France Haim Korsia stressed the importance for them to stay in their home country.

About this debate, the Jewish writer Eliette Abécassis just published “Alyah. The temptation du départ” (Albin Michel Publishing House). Marked by a strong connection to her Jewish origins, Abecassis had previously published “Qumran” in 1996, a book devoted to the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls, “The Répudiée”, that inspired the screenplay of Amos Gitai’s “Kadosh,” and “A Marital Affair” focused on the issue of divorce.
In the book “Alyah” the narrative voice is Esther Vidal, a Moroccan Jewish living in Paris, who reflects upon the growth of the virus of anti-Semitism which is plaguing France, and casts uncertainty over her own fate.

Ms. Abécassis, did you come up with the idea for your latest book “Alyah” after the Paris attacks or after the riots during the war between Israel and Hamas last summer?

Last summer. I was working on a different project, and suddenly, those riots happened. Synagogues were attacked, men were crying “death to the Jews,” so I started to write on this situation, because suddenly nothing else mattered.

Is this the first time that you have thought about leaving France, considering that it is not the first time that French Jews are targeted?

It began with the murder of Ilan Halimi. I realized that something very serious was happening. Then there was Toulouse (in March 2012, three children and a teacher were killed by a terrorist outside the Jewish school). Everyday Jews are molested because they are Jews. The situation is getting worse and worse. The new pattern for anti-Semitism is anti-Zionism. Anti-Semitism reinvents itself year after year. In the Middle Ages, Jews were considered responsible for the death of Jesus. Then they were depicted as an inferior race that had to be killed. Today the focus is on Israel. But it’s always the same: people hate Jews for what they are. Today, anti-Semitism in France is spreading from the extreme left to the extreme right, not to mention Islamist radicalism.

I read that you the kidnapping of Ilan Halimi deeply affected you.

I was thinking about him all the time. And so were my friends. He was so much like them, or like my cousins.

When the Chief Rabbi of France Haim Korsia visited Italy, he invited Italian Jewish Communities to re-introduce a prayer in their liturgy for the safety of Italy and its Republic. Rav Korsia has a deep and strong bond with France and he said that French Jews should stay in the country. What do you think about this?

There is this very strong connection. There are traces of the Jewish presence here dating from 70 a.e.v. This means that no one is more French than French Jews. Jews inspired the ideals of France like France inspired Judaism, from Rashi to Emmanuel Levinas. French Judaism is unique in the world, in its universalism and humanism. This is why it is so hard to leave.

What do you think about Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at Paris Synagogue after the HyperCacher attack?

I perfectly understand that he doesn’t comprehend why we want to stay in this country, after what happened.

In the end, do you think that French Jews should stay or should go?

I am asking myself this question everyday. The question itself contains the answer.