Enough! We're on our way to Britain

Economic strife and hate are driving French Jews abroad in record numbers

By Charlotte Oliver, June 27, 2014
Protesters perform the fascist 'quenelle' gesture at a Paris demonstration

Protesters perform the fascist 'quenelle' gesture at a Paris demonstration

Strasbourg-born banker Myriam Amsellem lives in a thriving French Jewish community.

She attends a shul filled with her compatriots, while her three children attend a local Jewish primary school filled with French culture.

But Ms Amsellem does not live in Paris or Lyon - her home is in South Hampstead, north-west London, 100 miles from France.

She is one of the thousands of French immigrants who have made their home in the UK.

Although there are no official figures, it is thought that around 6,000 French Jews currently live in Britain. The number comes from Simon Tobelem, French businessman and trustee of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation.

He said: "If you have 60 million people in France, one per cent are Jews so that is roughly 600,000. Then, if you have 600,000 French people in London, at least 6,000 of those are Jewish."

According to Mrs Amsellem, London is a safer, freer place to be than France. "We feel a lot more comfortable here," the 34-year-old said.

Over and out

289% - Year-on-year increase in French aliyah
5,000 - Estimated total immigration to Israel from France in 2014 — a ecord
6,000 - Rough estimate of number of French Jews in the UK
55% - Percentage rise in global aliyah in 2014 — driven by France and Ukraine

"If you work in France, you can't be Jewish. You cannot take off chagim from work and you cannot leave early on Shabbat. I look at France now and I know I would not want to be there."

Ms Amsellem is a long-time immigrant, having first moved here 14 years ago to study at the London School of Economics, where she met her French husband. She said she had recently noticed a spike in French Jews coming to the UK.

According to Marc Meyer, the Paris-born chairman of Hendon Synagogue, there are two factors driving this trend.

"Like so many non-Jewish French people, they are drawn by huge tax advantages," he said. "The financial and employment climate is a lot more attractive in London. But the second and growing factor is the rampant antisemitism in France. It's more obvious than it ever was before. I know people who come here because they just can't stand being there any more - not when you read about what happens to those who walk around in France with kippot on their heads."

Student Alex Beloousov agreed. The 20-year-old Parisian followed his brother to London to study at University College two years ago in the wake of the 2012 Toulouse shootings.

He said: "We grew up as Orthodox Jews in an Orthodox school. What people always say about France is not a myth. They said it would get worse, but I never believed it. Now I am so happy that I am not there.

"The next stage is working out how to get my parents out. In some ways, I really feel like they are in danger."

Mr Beloousov regularly meets fellow young nationals at Jewish Learning Exchange Friday-night dinners, and at Wembley United Synagogue.

"My Judaism helped me so much when I came here, because there are so many welcoming communities and organisations."

A spokesperson for the Anshei Shalom congregation, which worships at St John's Wood Synagogue, said it had seen a dramatic increase in French membership since 2011, with 65 per cent of their 200 members coming from the country, including the Amsellem family

Monthly shiurim are now held in French, with an average turnout of 70 people.

At the Centre for Jewish Life in central London, there has been an influx of 947 young French members in the past three years.

"If we have 300 people at our Friday-night dinners, normally 65 or so are French," the centre's rabbi, Yosef Vogel, said. "We have dinners for French people, where they can meet people and bring friends. They integrate very well in the community."

Simon Tobelem is launching the monthly French Business Club with UJIA next month to provide young professionals a "louder voice within the UK Jewish community".

Proof of the growing French presence is perhaps most evident in Jewish schools. Naima Jewish Preparatory, in Maida Vale, has had a large increase in French families since 2012, while the voluntary-aided North-West London Jewish Primary School in Willesden now caters for 56 French pupils out of a total roll of 285.

French signs are posted around its premises, and the school newsletter is regularly printed in French and English. The Gallic presence has enriched the school, said head-teacher Rabbi Daniel Kerbel. "We have good communication with the French parents and the school has only benefited," he said.

But for all the advantages of living in the UK, there is one area of life that French Jews say is superior across Channel - food.

Ms Amsellem said: "A lot of us order our kosher meat from France. It is much better - and the cakes are much better, too."

Last updated: 6:45am, June 27 2014