Monday, March 12, 2007

More Jews Fleeing France

From The Miami Herald:
Rod Kukurudz decided to uproot his family from a comfortable life in France to Surfside when his then 16-year-old daughter, Audrey, came home one night in 2005 - upset and fearful.

''Dad,'' she told him, ''now even if it's hot I have to wear a scarf to hide my Star of David,'' while riding the Paris Metro.

French Jews living in South Florida told The Miami Herald that hostility from Islamic militants in France after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States spurred them to leave. Departures surged after last year's abduction and death of Ilan Halimi in France.

The 23-year-old Halimi, a French Jew of Moroccan parents, was kidnapped Jan. 21, 2006, by a gang of youths calling themselves the "Barbarians.''

''The atmosphere created by that episode, plus other incidents and the general hostility of Muslims in France toward Jews, is what's behind my decision to leave,'' said Kukurudz, who now lives with his wife and their three daughters, including Audrey, in Surfside.

Vanessa Elmaleh is among a growing number of South Florida immigration attorneys helping French Jews secure U.S. visas - but not necessarily asylum.

''Asking for asylum can be risky,'' said Elmaleh, a French Jew herself. "If they deny your petition, they can deport you.''

[…] There are no official U.S. government figures on the number of French Jews here, but officials in U.S. Jewish organizations said it could be anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 in South Florida - mostly Miami-Dade.

''I would say they're in the thousands now,'' said Mendy Levy, a rabbi at The Shul synagogue in Surfside.

''There is no question of an increase in the number of French Jews in South Florida, and there's an expectation that that rate of increase will accelerate,'' said Jacob Solomon, executive vice president of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. 'French Jews see the handwriting on the wall and say, 'We're not going to wait until it's too late.' ''

[…] In their hearts, many of the French Jews arriving in South Florida feel they are refugees, and there's a movement to press the U.S. government for such status. A group has posted a petition on the Internet - - urging the U.S. Congress to approve a refugee program for French Jews.

Both Cohen and Kukurudz miss life in France, but they have no regrets about leaving. They did it for their children.

''So they can have a future,'' Cohen said.

When I was a kid, back in those much-maligned, repressive, intolerant 1950’s, the idea that Jews would ever again have cause to fear in Western Europe would have been totally unthinkable. But then, a lot of the commonplaces of our brave new 21st century would have been unthinkable. I think we owe an apology to all those valiant young men who lost their lives in the liberation of Europe. With every year that passes, it looks more and more like it was a waste of time.