By Ilana Messika/TPS
A total of 120 French women, aged 18 to 23, have immigrated to Israel in 2016 through a specialized program, called Shlomit, which coordinates and finds Israeli citizens placement in national service, also known as Sherut Leumi.
French immigration increased from 1,900 immigrants in 2012 to 7,800 in 2015 and French immigrants make up 25% of all immigrants to Israel. However, the year 2016 has seen a particular upsurge of French women deciding to immigrate through the Shlomit organization and particularly through one of its branches, Shilat, which is specifically for religious women.
Shlomit was the first organization to extend national service opportunities to all Israeli citizens, regardless of sexuality, race, or financial status. The group’s mission is to enable every young Israeli citizen exempt from military service to serve the country and to make a significant contribution to the advancement of Israeli society.
“We endeavor to construct the best-suited combination between the particularities of the applicants, such as their specific skills, capabilities, place of origin, and languages, and those who could best utilize their services,” Shilat Director Osnat Tzadok told Tazpit Press Service (TPS).
Most of this year’s applicants are from the area of Paris, but some have also emigrated from Marseilles or northern France. They tend to settle in Jerusalem in particular, but many of them also reside in Raanana, Netanya, Ashdod, Ramat Gan, and Tel Aviv. Program participants volunteer in a wide range of sectors, including hospitals, hospices, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and special education.
“It is not easy to immigrate to Israel, to integrate oneself within a new culture and country without one’s family, and to be disconnected from all that is familiar,” explained Tzadok. “Our program makes it easier by allowing participants to better familiarize themselves with the Israeli mentality, fostering confidence, creating new relationships and friendships, and learning Hebrew,”
As of the end of July, most Shilat participants will already have completed most of the administrative steps that immigration to Israel entails and are expected to start their year of service in September, but some will still be in the process of filing various necessary documents and arranging exemptions from military service.
Shilat helps the women get through that bureaucratic process and provides the women with benefits equivalent to those of lone soldiers, such as an apartment, an internet connection to reach family members, funds for transportation, and some assistance in everyday expenses. The program helps the women with the psychometric exams for academic studies after their service and offers Torah courses to enrich their religious knowledge.
Salome Benichou, a Shilat participant originally from Saint-Brice, told TPS that “Sherut Leumi for French Olim is complicated due to the fact that there is no forum to formally guide us through the process, to centralize the opportunities, and to actively make contact with French people and institutions while also providing support.”
“Shilat provides both professional and personal assistance through coordinators that are always available yet it allows for enough independence for immigrants to find their own place in Israeli society. It is an excellent medium to materialize the strong brand of Zionism I was brought up in,” she added.
Leaders of the program report that it has been very successful in integrating French women into Israeli society and that it has had a virtually nonexistent dropout rate. Participants in the program say that the success is a consequence of both the importance of Zionism in Jewish culture in France and of the efficacy of the program itself.
“What we need to understand about the immigrants from France is that many of them spend a year doing Israeli national service after having already done a Masa program for a year while their counterparts in France and the rest of Europe have already finished their degree. That is a pretty significant concession for both French young women and their parents to make in favor of Zionism given the French mentality,” concluded Liora, who is currently completing her second year of Sherut Leumi.