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France: Jewish Students Find Public Schools A No-Go Zone

With pervasive anti-Semitism from teachers and pupils, the last 15 years has seen a drastic shift towards private Jewish education.

Paris Jews
Children peering out from a doorway as armed soldiers patrol outside their school in the Jewish quarter of the Marais district in Paris, France.

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 rounded 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.”

‘Enrolling a Jewish kid into a public school was normal when I was growing up. Nowadays, forget it’

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.

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