Jewish school principals in France are calling for their students to move to Israel due to the growing number of anti-Semitic attacks. The sentiment is echoed by the students, who say there is a palpable aura of fear.
"I think at Jews should move to Israel," says Paul Fittousi, the director of Yavne School in Marseille.
"France is not our place anymore. The younger generation must do this," Fitoussi says.
"Two of my daughters have already migrated and are learning in Be'er Sheva, and I'm encouraging my third to do the same."
Yoav Zanuv, a student at Akiva School in Strasbourg, where dozens of Jewish graves were desecrated last week, admitted that sometimes he feels unsafe.
"Because of the Muslims, there are neighborhoods you can't enter with a kippah," he says.
"When I saw the desecration of the Jewish cemetery, I thought I have no place to call my own other than Israel."
Lena Salem, a 17-year-old from Marseille, says she "hid her star of David necklace and other Jewish markers."
"I don't want to be the religious Jewish girl who gets attacked on the Metro or in one of the less favorable neighborhoods," she says.
"I always carry a can of pepper spray with me."
Fitoussi says that due to the growing number of anti-Semitic attacks, he decided to not allow his students to "eat or have gym lessons outside of the school."
According to him, "more than once someone has thrown stones at students or called them 'dirty Jews'."
"Nowadays, France's Jewish community lives in a ghetto," he says. "If you're in the Jewish area of town, you're all good. But if you walk out a little bit – you might get it."
"Although it might sound weird, to us the fact that we are encouraging people to migrate to Israel is completely natural," says Yoni Elimelech, deputy headmaster of Otzar Ha'Torah school in Paris' 13th arrondissement.
"I think any 18-year-old boy or girl living in France should migrate to Israel," he says.
Elimelech adds that just last week, the school accepted a 16-year-old transfer student from the city's predominately Muslim-populated 19th arrondissement, because of anti-Semitic harassment she endured.
Audrey, a 17-year-old student from Ort Marseille School, says last September she and a friend were sitting on a public bench near the school when three bullies showed up and pulled her hair.
"They started hitting and cursing at us," she says.
Audrey says she and her friend were stunned and "frozen in place."
Eventually, a faculty member came to their aid.
"Since then," Audrey says, "I started to be afraid every time I got on the bus or sat in a public park. I was afraid someone would attack me. In the past, I never gave much thought to my Jewish identity. But since that incident, I have thought about it a lot more."
Jewish school principal Moshe Twito says that several of his students were attacked during a gym class outside of school grounds.
"Several young people walked up to them, one them holding a knife and stabbed a student who has since migrated to Israel," Twito says.
"There are many students who transferred to us from other public schools because of anti-Semitism," he adds. "My project is to make sure that all my students emigrate to Israel."
Pitosi, Twito and Elimelech are visiting Israel as part of the "Bac Bleu Blanc" program, in which hundreds of Jewish high school seniors from 26 different schools in France visit Israel.
During their visit, the boys and girls are shown the academic options they have in Israel in order to encourage them to migrate.
As of now, about 40% of those who participated in the program have migrated to Israel.
The French students were to visit several academic institutions in Israel such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. There, they were to meet with past participants of the program who have already joined those institutions.
Other than visiting universities, the seniors were also to meet with French immigrants now working in Israel's high-tech industry.
Amos Hermon, the director general of Israel Experience, which oversees the program, says: "In the previous years we have seen a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe in general and France in particular."
"We at Israel Experience are working to encourage young French Jews to know Israel better, and to our joy, many do decide to immigrate here."
First published: 20:16 , 12.22.19