Whereas 30 years ago the majority of French Jews enrolled their children in public schools, now only a third of them do so.
Twenty-five years after he graduated from a public high school in the French capital, Stephane Tayar recalls favorably his time in one of the world’s most thorough education systems.
As for many other French Jews his age, the state-subsidized upbringing has worked out well for Tayar, a 43-year-old communications and computers specialist. Eloquent but down to earth, he seems as comfortable discussing the complexities of French society as he is adept at fighting — curses, threats and all — for his motorcycle’s place in the brutal traffic here.
“You learn to get along with all kinds of people — Muslims, Christians, poor, rich,” Tayar said in recalling his school years. “You debate, you study, you get into fistfights. It’s a pretty round education.”
But when the time came for Tayar and his wife to enroll their own boy and girl, the couple opted for Jewish institutions — part of a network of dozens of private establishments with state recognition, hefty tuition and student bodies that are made up almost exclusively of Jews.
“Enrolling a Jewish kid into a public school was normal when I was growing up,” Tayar said in a recent interview as he waited with two helmets in hand to pick up his youngest from her Jewish elementary school in eastern Paris. “Nowadays forget it; no longer realistically possible. Anti-Semitic bullying means it would be too damaging for any Jewish kid you put there.”
This common impression and growing religiosity among Jews in France are responsible for the departure from public schools of tens of thousands of young French and Belgian Jews, who at a time of unprecedented sectarian tensions in their countries are being brought up in a far more insular fashion than previous generations.
Whereas 30 years ago the majority of French Jews enrolled their children in public schools, now only a third of them do so. The remaining two-thirds are divided equally between Jewish schools and private schools that are not Jewish, including Catholic and Protestant institutions, according to Francis Kalifat, the newly elected president of the Crif umbrella group of French Jewish communities.
The change has been especially dramatic in the Paris area, which is home to some 350,000 Jews, or an estimated 65 percent of French Jewry.
“In the Paris region, there are virtually no more Jewish pupils attending public schools,” said Kalifat, attributing their absence to “a bad atmosphere of harassment, insults and assaults” against Jews because of their ethnicity, and to the simultaneous growth of the Jewish education system... Read more