The Jewish Agency has announced a major push to rally French Jews to make Aliyah (immigration to Israel). Over the coming months, hundreds of shlichim (Aliyah emissaries) are to arrive at Jewish areas in France to assist and encourage Jews to come home to the Jewish State. The Jewish Agency is calling the operation "Sarsel T'chilah (Sarsel - a Jewish neighborhood of Paris - first)".

The drive to bring tens of thousands of Jews from France to Israel was launched after a meeting last weekend with Immigration Minister Tzippy Livni, Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office Ilan Cohen, and Jewish Agency Chairman Sallai Meridor. The officials heard from the head of the Agency's Paris office, Menachem Gur-Ari, of a recent survey of French Jews showing that about 6% (30,000 out of 500,000) expressed the desire to move to Israel. Gur-Ari claimed that this was largely due to fears of rising anti-Semitism and a general concern for the safety of their children. Efforts will focus primarily on areas with large Muslim populations.

The Director of the Jewish Agency's Aliyah center in France, Olivier Rafowicz, told Maariv newspaper, "The atmosphere for Aliyah is ripe in France. It has been growing as of late. If in 2001, less than 1,000 immigrated to Israel, this year we expect over 3,000. We know of more and more Jews who are thinking of leaving France."

Roger Cukierman, President of the Jewish council CRIF that officially represents French Jewry, is unhappy with the initiative. He told Maariv that Israel is "bypassing our community leaders, and I intend to express my objections to the Israeli ambassador... The French government is doing its best to overcome anti-Semitism and now is not the time to create a conflict with French authorities."

Cukierman's son, however, does not agree. Eduard Cukierman, who moved to Israel 20 years ago, said today, "I would like to ask my father, the leader of the Jewish community of France, when will he [say] that the time has come to immigrate to Israel? Only when a Jew is murdered in the streets of Paris?"

French Justice Minister Dominique Perben said last week that 180 anti-Jewish acts had been recorded in France this year, including cases of assault, arson and verbal insults. Rabbis in Marseille and in the Parisian suburb of Creteil were attacked over the past month, and a rabbi's son was severely beaten near his home in Paris over the Shavuot holiday.

"There is a definite buzz in the air among French Jews that Israel is where we are all headed," David Azoulay told IsraelNN's Ezra HaLevi. "Particularly amongst the younger generation there is a feeling that an Aliyah revolution is quickly engulfing France - bringing with it waves of new immigrants, escaping anti-Semitism on the one hand, but filled with a deep appreciation for Israel and the desire to help build up the country, as well."

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