NICE — Rabbi Eliyahou Lanker was born in Nice 59 years ago. At the age of ten, he came to Israel alone at learned at a yeshiva in Bnei Brak. “It’s what I wanted, ” he said, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. But the young boy’s brave journey lasted but three years before he returned to Nice. Recently, he came full circle when he landed in Israel as a new immigrant, and he has no intention of going back this time.
“It was very hard for me to leave Nice—my parents are buried there—but I think that it’s over. France doesn’t have any place for Jews today.”
Together with the rabbi came 144 new immigrants with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. They received a warm welcome at Ben Gurion Airport, and they each left from there in their own directions to new lives in Israel.
Lanker, a married father of seven and grandfather of 15, was a rabbi in Nice’s Jewish community for 20 years. He also taught Talmud at a Jewish school in the city. Up until a few years ago, his synagogue was completely full on the Sabbath, but then something began to change. Congregants said that they were scared to come, and seats began to empty.
“Up until eight years ago, it was fine here for Jews. In recent years, anti-Semitism began. I’ve already had ‘Evil Jew’ yelled at me a few times, ” the rabbi said.
Three of his children, Ma’ayanah, Rivkah, and Devorah, immigrated to Israel two years ago. His wife, Monique, finished the process three months ago and has joined her husband. A fourth child, Sarah, intends to immigrate with her family in September, and the remaining family intends to stay in Nice.
Sarah’s apartment in Nice is located in a building inhabited exclusively by Jewish families. It’s surrounded by kosher restaurants, and the synagogue is nearby. Ma’ayanah and Rivkah came to Nice on vacation and to celebrate the bar mitzvahs of their three nephews.
“In Nice, I’m very afraid, ” said Ma’ayanah. “I haven’t been here in a year. For the week that I’m here, I don’t go out alone in the morning. I obviously take off my star-of-David necklace. When I lived her, I wouldn’t go out at night at all. However, in Israel, I go out until four in the morning without fear. I don’t belong to Nice, even though I was born here. In Israel, I feel at home; it’s my place.”
A few days after the horrifying terrorist attack in the city, the Nice promenade began to return to normal. The locals and the tourists stroll along it and stop at the temporary monument for the dead with dolls and drawings for children who lost their lives. Dozens of police officers and soldiers are in the area, which is not something that the Niçois are at all used to.
“I landed in Nice right when the attack was happening. We were supposed to go by there on our way home, but our flight was delayed a half hour, ” Ma’ayanah recalled. Her father added, “Nobody thought that something like that attack could happen in Nice.”
When asked if they had experienced any anti-Semitic violence in Nice, Sarah recounted, “My son doesn’t wear a kipah outside of the school. One day, he was wearing a hat; a few youths yelled that he was Jewish, took off his hat and hit him. He managed to get away from them and run home. We were in shock. Both of us cried. In France, we don’t go freely onto the streets. My kids only go out to school and come home. We’re immigrating to Israel because we want our children to have lives.”
The rabbi and his wife will live in Ma’ale Adumim with their daughters, and the rabbi is currently looking for work. “There’s fear. My wife doesn’t speak Hebrew, and she has trouble even buying groceries in the supermarket. But we believe that everything will work out, ” he said with a smile.