News / Europe

Increasingly, French Jews Opt for Burial in Israel

FILE - The Jewish cemetery of Strasbourg-Cronenbourg, in Strasbourg, eastern France, April 14, 2002.
FILE - The Jewish cemetery of Strasbourg-Cronenbourg, in Strasbourg, eastern France, April 14, 2002.
Lisa Bryant
France has Europe's largest Jewish population, but many do not want to stay there forever. The last decade has seen a steady rise in the number of French Jews opting for burial in Israel. The reasons are many, but one of the biggest factors is space. In some French cemeteries, Jewish-only burial sections are rapidly filling up.

Franck Darmon is only 35, but he already knows where his bones will lie. Not in his native France, but in Israel.

He says that when you compare a cemetery in Israel - with the blue sky, the sun and the white tombstones - with one in France, with its grey surroundings, it is very distressing. The soul does not have the same type of rest.  

Darmon is not the only French Jew drawing this conclusion. And not just because of the weather. For the living and the dead here, Israel is becoming the final destination.  

Some are snapping up cemetery plots in the Holy Land early on, as insurance against premature death and sharply rising prices. Others are unearthing loved ones from French graveyards for reburial in Israel, sometimes years after their death. Their decisions are being shaped by a confluence of religious, financial and practical considerations.  

Darmon, who manages a funeral home in northeastern Paris, is seeing the changes in his books. Roughly a third of his business heads to Israel. There are others who would like to be buried there, but can not afford it.  

Just how many Jews end up in Israel is hard to say. Israeli airline El Al - which carries the caskets - will not disclose the figures. Undertakers, along with the Paris Consistory, representing the Jewish community here, say the numbers are growing steadily and amount to hundreds each year.

They reflect Israel's larger pull for French Jews, who are immigrating there by the thousands for religious and emotional reasons. For Ariel Kandel, who heads the Paris office of the Jewish Agency for Israel, it makes more sense for Jews to head to the Holy Land alive.

He says the point of Israel isn't to get buried there, but to live there and build the country. It's something positive.  

But these days, burial decisions are being driven by necessity, as well as by choice. Jewish-only sections in some cemeteries around Paris - where most French Jews live - are filling up. That is true for celebrated cemeteries like Pere Lachaise… and for the area's largest cemetery, in the French suburb of Pantin.  

Now, Darmon says, cemeteries are beginning to have mixed-faith plots. So those who are scrupulous about Jewish laws prefer to be buried in Israel. Others are finding that family burial plots are not forever in France. Many have fixed term leases that are rapidly running out. And authorities can exhume and burn the remains of untended graves, a practice that goes against Jewish beliefs.

That, says Orthodox rabbi Mendel Azimov, is scaring many French Jews.

"Burial is not a lifetime. Burial can be one day thrown out from the cave…so every day there are dead people that are carried over to Israel," said Azimov. "My grandparents were buried in Israel, my mother is buried in Israel…everybody that has the possibility financially. So every night, EL Al has bodies going off to Israel."  

Funeral homes are quickly responding to this new reality. Across town, undertaker Menahem Perez says his funeral home, Sportes, has bought up 100 plots at a cemetery near Jerusalem. Sportes ships about 130 caskets to Israel yearly, including exhumed bodies for reburial there.  

Burial in Israel is a few thousand more euros, Perez says, but it is worth it.  Because Israel is forever. With less red tape, and daily El Al flights from Paris, it is also much easier and quicker to be buried there today than just a decade ago.   

Perez heads to his next assignment - at a hospital outside the capital.  Family and friends crowd around a casket set out in a small room.   

Men chant passages from the Torah. An old woman cries in a corner. A policeman seals the coffin before it is lowered into a waiting van. The door snaps shut, and the body is gone, on its way to Israel and sunshine .

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More