Some fifty years ago, a mass migration transformed Judaism in France and in other countries of Western Europe. Algeria, a French colony in North Africa, was granted independence in 1962. Over one million French residents — European settlers and natives that had opted for French citizenship and culture — had no choice but to flee across the Mediterranean to the mother country, and ten percent of them were Jewish. Overnight, the Jewish community in Metropolitan France grew from 300,000 to over 400,000 souls.

Two more countries in North Africa had been French protectorates until the 1950s: Morocco to the west of Algeria; Tunisia to the east. Upon acceding to independence, the local governments in Rabat and Tunis guaranteed full equality to their Jewish minorities. But it soon became apparent that this was an empty promise, and that all non-Muslims, including Jews, had to go.

The exodus accelerated after the grizzly circumstances of Algerian independence. Many Moroccan and Tunisian Jews fled to Israel. Some went to the French-speaking province of Quebec, in Canada. The rest — some 200,000 Jews — came to France. In addition, tens of thousands of Jewish refugees came from Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, and Iran. All in all, the French Jewish community reached a peak of 700,000 in the 1970s.

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