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Warning of crisis in French Jewish schools

    Jo Toledano
    Jo Toledano

    A senior educator has warned of a crisis in Jewish education in France as schools close due to falling pupil numbers.

    Four of France's 200 Jewish schools have shut down over the past year because Jews have been leaving France or moving to safer areas, said Jo Toledano, who until September headed the Alliance Israelite Universelle, an educational umbrella group.

    The Unified Social Jewish Fund (FSJU), which oversees France's Jewish schools, said 1,500 pupils left the network last year.

    Rising Jew-hate is widely blamed for the dropping numbers.

    A record 8,000 French Jews made aliyah in 2015. Many others left for destinations such as Canada, the US, the UK and Spain.

    Although an exodus on this scale has not yet had a major impact on a community that totals around 500,000, it has hurt Jewish institutions because the families that are leaving are the wealthiest and most observant.

    "Most families who made aliyah attended shul and sent their children to Jewish schools," said Mr Toledano.

    "The biggest schools have replaced their pupils with others from waiting lists, but many found no replacements and are now struggling to stay open."

    Schools have also had to deal with families leaving their neighbourhoods for security reasons. A spate of antisemitic violence in Sarcelles, north of Paris, in 2014, pursuaded many to resettle.

    "Jewish schools have complex budgets. The parents and private donors pay for the buildings and salaries of professors teaching religious classes.

    "The French state pays the salaries of those teaching non-religious disciplines - maths, French, science, art etc. But to get funding from the state, schools have to have a minimum number of students per class. When small schools lose even one family with five children, they can lose their funding and shut down," said Mr Toledano.

    Patrick Petit-Ohayon, the head of the FSJU education unit, argued that while some classes had closed the community had kept schools open by merging some of them.

    Budgets are also tightening due to security concerns. In the past decade, the state has handed out two funding packages, each worth 3m euros, for gates, cameras and bullet-proof windows. However, the cash has not covered all hardware costs. In addition, the 5,000 guards it has deployed to protect the country's 700 Jewish institutions will soon have to be moved elsewhere.

    "Jewish schools will have to hire private security," said Mr Toledano. "Economists estimate that living as a Jew in France will cost twice as much in 15 years as it does today."

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