By: Barbie Goldstein
French Jews have been emigrating from France to Israel and bringing an influx of cultural influences since Israel’s founding in 1948. Recently, olim (immigrants) in the twenty-first century have increased due to the rising antisemitism in France. Antisemitism has been so prevalent in France that local Jewish French leaders have suggested to their communities to cover their kippot in public. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded for French Jews to make aliyah in 2018, telling his constituents that they have a “moral obligation” to ensure French Jews safely make aliyah. Terror attacks in 2012 at a Jewish day school in Toulouse, France, a hostage crisis at a Parisian kosher market in 2015, along with a plethora of heinous antisemitic attacks on Holocaust survivors, kippot-wearing Jews, and Jewish teachers, have resulted in a large increase of emigration to Israel which has arguably “francophonized” aspects of Israeli society.
Between 2000-2015, approximately 20,000 Jews emigrated to Israel, the plurality citing fears of antisemitism. This trend of emigrating from France to Israel had a large impact on Israeli society. With an average of 2,000 Jews per year making aliyah (with an increase in 2013 and a slight decrease in 2017), French culture and norms have melted into routine life for many Israelis, even if French culture does not appear forthright. French Jews have influenced Israeli society, as evidenced by the restaurant industry.
French immigration has produced a number of modern cultural and industrial norms in Israel’s restaurant industry. Original French establishments, such as Casbah and Alhambra, paved the path towards making French gastronomy a common cuisine when they first opened their doors in the 1960s in Tel Aviv. Casbah and Alhambra focused on exquisite French cuisine for the elite. Over time, as more immigrants poured into Israel and chefs began experimenting with cultural foods, restaurants similar to Casbah and Alhambra closed because of their narrow and culturally focused menus. Their closures during the 1990s made room for more popular and more modern cross-cultural restaurants, indicating that French cuisine, and by extension French culture, was slowly integrating into Israeli societal norms.
Today, French-fusion cuisine is at the forefront of the restaurant industry, especially in Tel Aviv. These fusion restaurants create mouth-watering, modern, and unique food that combine mediterranean flavors and seasonings with traditional French dishes. Restaurants such as the Pink Ladle and Pitango have dishes including the halva parfait and filleted steak marinated in coffee. These flavorful and one-of-a-kind dishes encapsulate the French immigrant sentiment of maintaining their French identity and culture while being a part of Israeli society. Tel Aviv has been the center for French-fusion food in Israel, thus resulting in the French embassy’s annual “So French So Food Festival.” For a week in early February, the French Embassy highlights many French restaurants and French chefs across various Israeli cities, with the biggest celebration in Tel Aviv. The French embassy created this festival to highlight French gastronomy and culture.
French-fusion goes a step further in Israeli society because it integrates French-Jewish and Jewish-Israeli cuisine, as demonstrated by the holiday season. French bakeries compete with Israeli bakeries for the title of best sufganyot not only because of the different flavors, but because of the different techniques used to make them. According to The Jerusalem Post, all of the chefs interviewed, whether they studied culinary arts in France or emigrated from France, noted how they use French techniques to create Jewish desserts everyone can enjoy. As evidenced by delectable holiday food, French immigrants maintain their cultural identity and nationality while still being able to identify with Israelis through fusion food and a common religion.
In conclusion, French immigration has had an astounding impact on Israeli society through varying outlets that influence cultural norms and practices. The restaurant industry highlights the cultural impact French immigrants have had on Israeli society through the multitude of French-mediterranean fusion food. Traditional Jewish food such as sufganyot during the holidays encompasses the Jewish tradition of sharing food and sharing thoughts. Moreover, restaurants provide spaces where non-French Israelis can come together to learn about French culture.
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Hoffman, Gil. “Jerusalem's Sufganiyot Scene Has Been Taken over by French Bakeries.” The Jerusalem Post, December 20, 2019. https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/fried-and-flavorful-from-france-611404.
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“Netanyahu: We Need to Increase Aliyah from France.” The Jerusalem Post, December 9, 2018. https://www.jpost.com/breaking-news/netanyahu-we-need-to-increase-the-aliyah-of-french-jews-573855.
Rogov, Daniel. “The Restaurant Revolution in Israel.” Reform Judaism. Union for Reform Judaism. Accessed March 5, 2021. https://reformjudaism.org/restaurant-revolution-israel.
“Semaine Gastronomie Francaise En Israel.” So French So Food. French Embassy. Accessed March 5, 2021. https://www.sofrenchsofood.com/.
Barbie Goldstein is a sophomore at American University. She majors in international affairs in SIS and plans to double minor. She is very involved in the Jewish community as a Hillel intern and a teacher at the Washington Hebrew Congregation. Barbie loves to read, cook, and always has a latte in her hand!