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

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora