Over 800 French Jewish students are currently taking part in an educational program to strengthen their ties to Israel by reenacting the dramatic voyage of Hatikva, a ship carrying 1,414 Jews who tried to enter Israel in 1947 that was turned away by the British.
The project, an initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and the Office of Immigration and Absorption, was organized by The Israel Experience, which aims to bring over 6,000 French students to Israel over the course of the year to learn more about the country.
Amos Hermon, CEO of The Israel Experience, spoke to Arutz Sheva about the project and its goals to educate French Jewry about aliyah at the founding of the modern Jewish state, and to thereby connect them to Israel.
In the course of the project launched this week, seminars will be conducted by The Israel Experience on board a ship which set out Monday on a four-day journey to trace the route of Hatikva, the 1947 ship whose Jewish passengers - most of them Holocaust survivors - were deported to Cyprus by the British Mandate, which harshly limited Jewish entry to Israel, as it attempted to reach the shores of the Holy Land.
Later on Hatikva was used to transport Jews from displaced persons (DP) camps in Cyprus and France to Israel. Jews who were part of the "illegal" immigration to Israel in the early post-war years will take part in the seminars, relating their experiences.
The program's focus on French Jews comes in response to skyrocketing French aliyah (immigration) figures that have come in the wake of rising violent French anti-Semitism and a flagging French economy: a full 1% of the French Jewish community is expected to move to Israel by the end of 2014.
Seminars in the program, which ends on Thursday, will also include professional workshops on how to deal with anti-Semitism.
"We stand before an extended period in which the process of anti-Semitism in Europe just continues to rise and become more serious," said Ya'akov Hagoel, head of the WZO's Department for Combating Anti-Semitism.
Hagoel remarked that reenacting the "illegal" aliyah at the end of the British Mandate period "allows hundreds of youth from France to address issues they deal with on a daily basis, while receiving answers to issues and problems. I'm sure the flotilla will strengthen the connection to the people of Israel and the state of Israel among the youths, and even contribute to their security."