In Flint Crisis, Jews Pitching In with Corned Beef, Dr. Brown’s — and Water

Volunteers loading cases of free water into waiting vehicles at a water distribution center in Flint, Mich., this month. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

Volunteers loading cases of free water into waiting vehicles at a water distribution center in Flint, Mich., this month.
(Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

FLINT, Mich. — At 86, Jeanne Aaronson is blind and lives alone, but she has seen a lot over the years.

She lived in Flint when it was a manufacturing powerhouse, a center of the automotive business and a symbol of American industrial might and ingenuity. She lived through the city’s decline in the 1970s and ’80s as the auto factories closed and the population decamped for better opportunities elsewhere. And more recently, she witnessed the beginning of its revival, with the opening of new businesses and a slew of brewpubs and coffee shops on Saginaw Street.

Now Aaronson is living through yet another difficult period in Flint history, as the city copes with toxic levels of lead in its drinking water that has made Flint a national example of failed governance. Like all the residents here, Aaronson is surviving on bottled water, which she must even feed to her elderly dog.

“Am I ticked? You bet I’m ticked,” Aaronson said. “I’m ticked at the stupidity of our governor for appointing that emergency manager who decided to save a few bucks by poisoning us. Just stupid. I’m ticked at everyone from the very top to the very bottom. Except our new mayor. Mayor Weaver’s doing a good job. But otherwise, I have no faith. None at all.”

Flint has been facing a public health emergency since April 2014, when the city, under the direction of a state-appointed emergency financial manager, began to use the Flint River as its water source. The city used to get its water from Detroit’s water system, which relied on Lake Huron and the Detroit River as water sources. After the switch, the state chose not to use phosphates as an anti-corrosion agent, which caused lead to leach from old pipes into the drinking water.

The crisis was featured prominently in a recent Democratic presidential debate, with both candidates addressing the water situation in the opening minutes. Clinton described meeting mothers terrified for their children. Sanders spoke of his broken heart at hearing of a child now developmentally delayed as a result of lead poisoning.

“Whether this happened because of sins of omission or sins of commission doesn’t matter,” said Steve Low, the director of the Flint Jewish Federation, which has been helping deliver bottled water to local residents. “It doesn’t make the poisoning of Flint’s water supply any less heinous.”

Aaronson’s is one of only 66 identified Jewish households left in Flint, a city of 100,000 people 60 miles northwest of Detroit. About 200 more Jewish families live in the Flint area but outside the city limits, where the water hasn’t been affected.

Like Aaronson, many Jews in Flint are elderly, and they’ve been particularly battered by the crisis. For some with arthritic hands, merely opening the bottled water that is now an essential commodity here can be a challenge. Others have had difficulty getting assistance because they don’t have Internet access or are hesitant about opening their door to strangers in a high-crime city.

“For me, this is one giant pain. And yes, I am plenty angry. But I can take care of myself,” said Sue Ellen Hange, 61, a member of Flint’s Temple Beth El who got skin rashes from showering in the contaminated water. “I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be homebound and dealing with this.”

The Flint Jewish community has responded with support both moral and material. To ease the fears of the city’s older Jews, familiar faces from the federation’s senior services division often accompany the water delivery. Two of Flint’s synagogues have held informational meetings and offered special prayers for healing. Synagogue social action committees have also reached out to local residents to remind them they’re not alone.

Support has also come from further afield. The Metro Detroit Federation made a cash contribution of an undisclosed sum to the community. Several Detroit-area congregations joined forces and made the trek 60 miles north with a truck full of water. The Yad Ezra Food Pantry, a group of Detroit-area Chabad houses and the Jewish Federation in Toledo, Ohio, also made water donations.

From Indianapolis, Shapiro’s Deli sent a complete Shabbat meal for 150 in January, including corned beef, pastrami, knishes, chicken soup with matzah balls and even Dr. Brown’s soda. The Jewish relief effort even reached as far as California, where San Francisco chocolatier and Flint native Chuck Siegel sent over an array of sweets and beloved Flint nostalgia foods like Vernors ginger ale and Koegel’s hot dogs. In Los Angeles, Flint native and Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman helped stage the Hollywood Helps Flint fundraiser on Feb. 21, which has so far raised $33,000 for the city.

“We may have left Flint,” Bragman said at the fundraiser, “but Flint never left us.”

Steve Low, center, the director of the Flint Jewish Federation, takes a delivery of food from a kosher deli in Indianapolis. (Flint Jewish Federation)

Steve Low, center, the director of the Flint Jewish Federation, takes a delivery of food from a kosher deli in Indianapolis.
(Flint Jewish Federation)

The crisis comes at a particularly unfortunate moment for Flint. After decades of mounting poverty and crime, the city had recently begun to rebound. Businesses as varied as a small maker of hip eyeglass frames to corporate giants had set up shop in the city. Renovated dowager buildings downtown are now trendy loft apartments. The Michigan State University Medical School opened a new campus downtown, and Kettering University and the University of Michigan-Flint both dramatically expanded their footprints in the city.

“If it’s possible to see the good in this,” Low said, “it’s that the water crisis threw a big net over the community and has drawn us together. Going back to the 1950s, Flint’s Jews and the African-American community have always worked together. Lately, not so much. But the water has rekindled some of those passions we both share for social justice.”

The crisis has also drawn the Jewish and Hispanic communities together. At a recent meeting at Flint’s Temple Beth El, congregant Melba Lewis pointed out that many local Hispanics are undocumented and are loath to open their doors to uniformed officers to distribute water. The synagogue wound up partnering with a large Hispanic church to distribute a pallet of water to the church for distribution.

But whatever silver linings Flint residents might find in the crisis, their faith in elected officials seems unlikely to be restored anytime soon. Low saw signs of racism in the crisis, likening the decisions that created the crisis in this majority-African American city to other government moves — like the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling invalidating a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and the nationwide trend to implement voter identification laws — that have disproportionately impact on minorities. Aaronson simply feels abandoned.

“I was listening to the Republican debate last night, 70 miles from here in Detroit, and there’s one question about the water,” she said last week. “One question! That’s so wrong. It should have been on the top of the list.”

David Stanley is a writer based in Flint, Mich. He served as a member of the Flint Jewish Federation board of trustees from 1990 to 1992.

Slovon — Adler

society_Slovon_AdlerJill and Ernie Slovon and Lori and Larry Adler joyfully announce the marriage of their children, Stephanie and Jeffrey Adler, on Oct. 24, 2015. Rabbi Dana Saroken officiated the ceremony, which was followed by a reception at the Marriott Waterfront in Baltimore.

Stephanie is the granddaughter of Jackie and Maish Friedman and the late Jeanne and Darwin Slovon. Jeffrey is the grandson of Marian Adler and the late Manfred Adler and Frances Prague and the late Leon Prague.

The couple enjoyed their honeymoon in Costa Rica, and they reside in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Lam

society_lamChris and Erica (Tilles) Lam of South Hempstead, N.Y., proudly announce the birth of their son, Cody Samuel, on Sept. 25, 2015. Excited big brother is Shane Angelo.

Cody’s Hebrew name is Ravid Michel in loving memory of his maternal great-grandmother, Betty Sinofsky, and maternal great-grandfather, Michael Tilles.

Cody’s middle name is in loving memory of his paternal grandfather, Samuel Lam.

Delighted Bubbe and Pop Pop are Faye and Ken Tilles of Baltimore. Delighted Nana and Papa are Joyce and Stephen Lam of Great Neck, N.Y.

On a Winter’s Day Get out the crockpots and chop and mince

Reprinted with permission from The Seasonal  Jewish Kitchen © 2015 by Amelia Saltsman, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Staci Valentine

Reprinted with permission from The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen © 2015 by Amelia Saltsman, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Staci Valentine

The recent blizzard certainly smacked some wintry sense into us — Game on! Get out your crockpots and containers. Match up those lids with the bottoms. Be ready to label what you put in the freezer. Chop and prep is what tires me out the most. It’s like shoveling snow — exhausting. But once that part is over, it’s easy!

Chop, mince, brown your ingredients the day before. Then you can simply throw things into the slow-cooker or big pot the following day. All these dishes can be made in part or in total in advance. Then you won’t be too pooped to put some pizazz into presentation such as making twists for ribbon salad. Or serve your favorite chili in corn bread muffins. Scoop out the baked muffins and fill with the chili. Sprinkle a few scooped out crumbs on the tops. And no more excuses to eat unhealthy foods, just because you are stuck indoors.

Amelia Saltsman, a cookbook author, advocates “eating out less” and “cooking more” for a healthy 2016. Her newest book, “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen,” is focused on tradition and seasonality, inspired by the Jewish calendar. Her diverse Romanian and Iraqi background make for some delicious flavors. Try her unique fish and roasted ratatouille recipes (very yummy!).

AMELIAS “MANTA RAY” CEVICHE
ROASTED ROMANIAN RATATOUILLE
GREEN TAHINI DIP

Tips & Tricks
• Using a sharp veggie peeler, scrape large ribbons for your salad. Zucchini, carrots, cucumbers and even asparagus can be placed flat to get ribbons.
• Look for Minneola or Honeybell oranges that are “in season” now for citrus recipes.
• Make a unique green tahini dip for raw vegetables and/or chicken strips.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

GREEN TAHINI DIP Pareve

1 large clove garlic, cut in half
1 cup green flat-leaf parsley
11/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup tahini
11/4 cups water

Place all ingredients in a food processor. You may need more water for thinner sauce. Taste and set aside. Serve with cooked (fried or baked) chicken strips and/or raw vegetables. Refrigerate sauce until serving.

ROASTED ROMANIAN RATATOUILLE Pareve

2 pounds fleshy sauce tomatoes, such as Roma
4-6 medium-size green or white narrow zucchini, about 11/2 pounds
2 medium eggplants, about 11/2 pounds
3-4 sweet red peppers
1-2 onions, peeled
6-8 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon sweet or hot paprika, or a mix
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 bay leaves
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roughly chop the tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, sweet peppers and onions into about 1-inch pieces. Transfer the vegetables to a large roasting pan (about 12 inches by 15 inches). Add the garlic cloves, paprika, cumin, bay leaves and 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and several grinds of fresh pepper. Toss to mix and spread in an even layer in the pan. Roast without stirring until vegetables are very tender and browned and the tomatoes have melted into a thick sauce, about 1 hour. 10 to 12 servings, warm or room temperature.

AMELIA’S “MANTA RAY” CEVICHE Pareve

1 pound firm-fleshed fish, skinned, very fresh fillets, such as halibut, mahimahi or white sea bass
11/2 cups fresh lime juice (from 6 large limes)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)
1/2 small red onion
1/4 cup snipped fresh chives, in 1/8-inch pieces
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground sumac or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste
1/2 teaspoon sel gris (coarse French salt) or coarse grain salt to taste
Pita triangles or crackers for serving

Pat fish dry. Remove any bones and dark patches. Cut fish against the grain into small thick slices about about 3/4-inch thick. Place in a glass bowl and add the juices,
stirring to mix. Cover and refrigerate, stirring occasionally until fish is opaque, about 2 to 3 hours. Cut onion in half into paper-thin slices. Soak the slices in cold water for 30 minutes. Drain well and pat dry. Drain the fish and place in a clean bowl. Add the onion, chives, olive oil, sumac, red pepper flakes and salt. Toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. 6 servings. Serve with pita triangles or crackers.

‘Jeopardy!’ Champ Can Thank Joe Biden for His Win

Sam Deutsch poses with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek after winning the show’s college tournament. (Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

Sam Deutsch poses with “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek after winning the show’s college tournament. (Courtesy of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

Sam Deutsch of Bethesda. Md., knows the answer to “What is it like to win $100,000, Alex?” after being crowned “Jeopardy!” College Champion.

The Richard Montgomery High School graduate was the only one of the three contestants to write the correct question to the final “Jeopardy!” clue, identifying Vice President Joe Biden as the senator who cast 12,810 votes from 1973 to 2009. The show aired Feb. 12.

Biden sent Deutsch, 20, a congratulatory letter. The student had entered the two-day final in second place, by a dollar, having earned $22,000.

He credited his success partly to his high school’s international baccalaureate program and also to his participation on its Quiz Bowl team, “which really helped me prepare for the pressure of answering the questions, but a lot of my knowledge has come from what I’ve learned in school or just what I’ve read on my own.”

A student at the University of Southern California, Deutsch wants to attend law school but probably will work for a few years before enrolling. He also hopes to travel.

Deutsch is in USC’s liberal arts general education honors program, majoring in political economy and double minoring in business law and consumer behavior.

His economics and businesses classes might be the key to making his $100,000 prize go a long way.

“I’m going to invest a lot of it and use it in the future to help pay for law school. That said, I’ll definitely set some aside to hopefully go back to Tokyo for a post-graduation gift,” he said.

Deutsch, who had his bar mitzvah at Temple Sinai in Washington, also plans on donating some winnings to the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research at Georgetown University. “My mom is a survivor and a huge inspiration,” he said. “Every year, she has run in fundraisers for breast cancer research, and I look forward to supporting her this year.”

When he’s not studying, “I really enjoy listening to music. I’m into all sorts of stuff from hip-hop to indie to electronic, and L.A. is great because I’m able to go to concerts all the time here,” Deutsch said. “My love for music led me to get into DJing with my roommate.”

He is a great admirer of Kanye West and mentioned the hip-hop artist while on “Jeopardy!” — although he was not quick enough on the buzzer to answer a question about his idol.

Deutsch pointed to West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and said it was “honestly the album that got me through high school.” He called it “incredibly well made and powerful.” Deutsch also is a fan of the musician’s line of fashion, especially his shoes.

“I greatly respect how he’s not afraid to say what he thinks. While I may disagree with some of the things he says, I know that it’s coming from an honest and authentic perspective, not one warped by a PR machine.”

As for his other likes, Deutsch is a fan of the television show “Mad Men” and definitely enjoys his lox and cream cheese.

Traveling is another one of Deutsch’s loves. He spent last summer in Japan and Korea. He connected with the JT by email from the Netherlands, where he is studying. “I’ve been to five countries in the past few weeks alone,” he said.

To become a “Jeopardy!” champion, Deutsch bested 14 other college students. He called his first appearance, shown on Feb. 3, “very nerve-wracking … just because you have to get used to the whole environment.” (The programs were recorded in early January.)

His goal “was just to make it to the semifinals,” he said. “Actually, winning the whole thing wasn’t even on my mind.”

His nerves aside, he had a great time. Host Alex Trebek is a “funny guy” and “is pretty skilled at witty banter.” However, to make sure the host didn’t show any favoritism, he didn’t really mingle with the contestants, Deutsch said.

Winning that much money was great, but Deutsch said he was truly pleased “to see all the friends, family, teachers, classmates and people from Bethesda cheer me on. That’s all that matters to me.”

New Citizenship Law Has Jews Worldwide Flocking to Tiny Portugal City

Congregants introduce a new Torah scroll to their synagogue in  Porto, Portugal.

Congregants introduce a new Torah scroll to their synagogue in
Porto, Portugal.

PORTO, Portugal — Five years ago, this city’s tiny Jewish community was so strapped for cash it couldn’t afford to fix the deep cracks in its synagogue’s moldy ceiling.

The Jewish Community of Porto was also too poor to hire a full-time rabbi because of its small size (50 members) and the paucity of donors in a country gripped by a financial crisis.

But last month the community, situation 200 miles north of Lisbon, showcased its stunning turnaround. Hosting the biggest event in its history, it drew hundreds of guests from all over the world to the city’s newly opened kosher hotel and newly renovated synagogue. The community also has a new Jewish museum and mikvah ritual bath, and there are plans to build a kosher shop, Jewish kindergarten and school.

The money, community members say, came from a massive influx of Jewish tourists that coincided with the implementation of Portugal’s 2013 law of return for Sephardic Jews and their descendants.

The law named the Porto community, founded by a handful of converts to Judaism, one of two institutions responsible for vetting citizenship applications, providing the Jews in this little-known city of 230,000 with tens of thousands of dollars in income and turning Porto into a destination for Jews from around the world.

“This law not only gave us new funds but put us on the world map,” said Emmanuel Fonseca, a 53-year-old Orthodox convert to Judaism. “In no time, we went from a tiny group struggling to exist to a well-to-do congregation with local and international standing. I never thought I would live to see this.”

Applying for membership in Lisbon and Porto’s official Jewish community costs $300-$560 and is a required step for a Jew to become a Portuguese citizen under the 2013 law. (Spain recently passed a similar law aimed at descendants of Sephardic Jews.) Each application must be checked by one of the two Jewish communities against their records and lists of lineages. Some of the hundreds of applicants to Porto have added handsome donations on top of the required fee.

So far, only three of the hundreds of citizenship applications have been approved, a wrinkle that Leon Amiras, an Israeli attorney handling citizenship requests and chairman of the Association of Olim from Latin America, Spain and Portugal, attributed to bureaucratic complications connected to last November’s elections in Portugal. Amiras said he expects hundreds of applications to be approved this year.

Meanwhile, Porto is becoming a more attractive prospective home for Jews with European Union passports, who can move here without obtaining citizenship. Yoel Zekri, a French Jewish student in his 20s who temporarily moved here last year from Marseille, where five Jews have been assaulted in three stabbing attacks since October, said he’s considering staying on after his studies “to help build the community.”

“I no longer feel comfortable in France,” Zekri said. “I would never wear a kippah on the street. Here people sometimes tell me they are happy to see the Jews return.”

Porto hasn’t seen a single anti-Semitic incident over the last decade, according to the mayor, Rui Moreira, who spoke last month at an event at the synagogue and obliquely referenced the rising anti-Semitic violence elsewhere in Europe.

“This synagogue was built when others across Europe were being burned,” he said. “Today, it again offers shelter from the bad winds blowing around us.”

Alexandre Sznajder, a Jewish businessman from Rio de Janeiro with a Polish passport who was in town for the kosher hotel and synagogue celebration, is thinking about moving to Porto with his wife and son.

“The economic situation in Brazil is deteriorating and personal security is terrible,” said Sznajder, an importer who said he was kidnapped for ransom two years ago. “If I can keep doing business from here, where it’s safe, Porto could be the place for us.”

Some applicants for Portuguese citizenship from non-EU countries want a Portuguese passport as an insurance policy, in the event things in their home countries go south. Hila Loya, a visitor from Cape Town, applied last year for that reason.

In South Africa, she said, “the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish atmosphere is worsening, and there’s a feeling things may turn for the worse in the near future.”

Last month, approximately 250 Jews from 14 countries convened here for a weekend retreat designed to introduce them to Porto and its Jews. Among those present were the president of Lisbon’s Jewish community, Turkish Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva and 80 other Turkish Jews. Most of the applicants to Porto’s community so far have been Turkish Jews, including many of those who came for the weekend retreat.

Haleva, one of Sephardic Jewry’s most respected religious figures, said he came not to apply for citizenship — “I’m a Turkish Jew, period” — but to visit “this place where our roots are.” Many of Turkey’s Jews are descended from Sephardic Jews who fled northern Portugal after 1536, when Portugal joined Spain in applying the Inquisition’s expulsion orders against Jews, according to Haleva. And many of those who fled from Portugal to Turkey originally came from Spain, where the Inquisition began in 1492.

Tens of thousands of Jews stayed in Portugal and converted to Christianity. While many continued to practice Judaism in secret as anusim — Hebrew for “forced ones” — the Jewish presence ultimately vanished from this once heavily Jewish area. The Jewish revival was sparked in 1923, when a Portuguese army captain, Arthur Carlos Barros Basto, reached out to the descendants of the anusim, leading to the construction of Porto’s synagogue.

Built in 1939, the community’s Kadoorie-Mekor Haim synagogue is among the largest and most beautiful in the Iberian Peninsula, but it saw long periods of neglect until last year’s extensive renovations were completed. That helped put a new shine on the synagogue’s best features: Moroccan-style interior arches; heavy redwood interior and dazzling collection of more than 20,000 hand-painted azulejos, Portugal’s iconic ceramic tiles.

When Porto’s mayor dropped in at last month’s retreat, it was his second time at the city’s shul — a sign of the Jewish community’s increased significance in Porto, according to the local rabbi, Daniel Litvak.

Addressing 300 guests from the synagogue’s podium while wearing a kippah, Moreira, who himself is descended from an Ashkenazi Jew who settled in Porto in the 19th century, said Portugal’s new law of return was to “correct a historical wrong” — the 16th-century expulsion of Portugal’s Jews.

But, he added, “the law has future implications: We want you to come live here, with us, and share that future.”

French Jews Struggling to Find Work in Israel

Catherine Berdah, pictured here with her husband and daughters at their apartment in Raanana, Israel, went from making $6,000 a month as a pharmacist to $6 an hour as a cashier. (Photo: Cnaan Liphshiz)

Catherine Berdah, pictured here with her husband and daughters at their apartment in Raanana, Israel, went from making $6,000 a month as a pharmacist to $6 an hour as a cashier. (Photo: Cnaan Liphshiz)

Raanana, Israel — Before she traded her native France for Israel, Catherine Berdah ran a successful drug store in an affluent suburb on the eastern edge of Paris.

A 50-year-old pharmacist with a master’s degree in business and decades of experience, Berdah earned over $6,000 per month and presided over an expanding business with 14 employees. But Berdah sold out last year and moved with her husband and two teenage daughters to this central Israeli city because she feared for their future in France amid rising anti-Semitic violence.

Berdah hoped to build a new pharmacy business in the Jewish state. But six months after settling here, she has already quit a $6-per-hour job as a cashier that offered no prospect of advancement and another in a health clinic where she was told to stack boxes in a storage room. Berdah left the latter because she was unable to lift the boxes.

“At 50, I was told that lifting boxes was basically all I’m good for,” Bredah said. “That’s when I started to feel humiliated.”

Now Berdah is studying Hebrew and waiting to take an exam that will grant her an Israeli pharmacist’s license. But before she can do that, she must meet a range of demands, including that she produce her attendance log from a pharmacology internship she completed 30 years ago with a French pharmacist who is no longer alive. According to Qualita, an umbrella group of 12 French immigrant associations in Israel, the exam has an 80 percent fail rate.

All of which has Berdah wondering if she made a terrible mistake in uprooting her comfortable life in France for a chance at a better one in Israel.

“I’m going to give it another year,” Berdah said. “But it’s not going too well.”

Some 15,000 French Jews have settled in Israel in the past two years alone, driven here by a combination of rising anti-Semitism and economic stagnation, among other factors. But while their impact is felt everywhere from the opening of multiple kosher patisseries to the launch last year of a French-language kindergarten to the sounds of yarmulke-wearing boys imitating their
favorite French movie stars in Raanana’s Yad L’Banim Square, Israel’s Francophone newcomers are struggling to make economic inroads.

Their plight recalls that of Russian immigrants who arrived in Israel in the 1990s, many of them highly trained professionals with advanced degrees forced to work low-skill jobs as garbage collectors and street sweepers because their credentials did not transfer.

“French physicians, nurses and pharmacists who’ve studied for five, eight years won’t work here as sanitary workers like their Russian counterparts did in the 1990s,” said Mickael Bensadoun, the director of Qualita. “They’re Zionist, but there’s a limit. And if it comes to that, they’ll return to France or move to countries hungry for skilled newcomers, like Canada.”

Both Bensadoun and Berdah believe Israeli authorities have presented unnecessary obstacles to protect local professionals from immigrant competition. The Israeli Health Ministry declined to respond to the charge and referred all inquiries to the Ministry for Immigrant Absorption, which said that efforts are underway to smooth out the certification process for health care professionals.

“We represent a boon for Israel, please don’t put us through a bureaucratic hell for this desire,” David Tibi, a dentist who immigrated to Israel in 2014, wrote in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in December.

In the meantime, French immigrants are taking matters into their own hands. In 2014, they launched an aggressive lobbying effort to break through the bureaucratic tangles they fault for making absorption exceedingly difficult for those already in Israel, while deterring countless others from coming.

The lobbying, led by Qualita and its member organizations, has already led to some changes, including the easing of certification requirements for French physicians in 2014 and pending legislation that would exempt experienced French dentists from taking a certification exam. Other professionals still must undergo thorough testing to work, regardless of their experience or the French standards they meet.

In December, the lobbying effort received a big push from Meyer Habib, a Jewish member of France’s National Assembly and friend of Netanyahu, who declared he would advise French Jews against moving to Israel unless progress is made within three months.

“I cannot support a situation which creates tragedies in people’s lives,” Habib wrote on Facebook.

According to Bensadoun, some 300-400 French health care professionals cannot work in their chosen field because of certification issues. He also pointed to official figures suggesting that the situation is leading 15-20 percent of French immigrants to return to France within two years.

Still, Bensadoun says he is optimistic, partly because of lessons drawn from the trials of Russian immigrants in the 1990s.

“The Russian olim’s success and immense contribution to Israel’s rise as a start-up nation have created an awareness in the Knesset and public of the potential dividends from educated olim,” said Bensadoun, using the Hebrew word for immigrants. “In a way, we’re sailing in their wake.”

For all her troubles, Berdah is not quite ready to give up on Israel. But the situation has put strains on her marriage. Her husband, Michel, wants the family to return.

“You think you have something to offer here?” Michel says as they argue on the subject. “Israel doesn’t want anything from you.”

Berdah, in turn, has her own disagreements with her oldest daughter, Clara, 18, who wants to stay in Israel and — to Berdah’s chagrin — serve in an army combat unit. Her younger daughter, Naomi, has acclimated well at her high school, where she studies in a special class for new immigrants and is considering starting a modeling career.

“The silver lining here is that the girls are really fitting in,” Berdah said. “It makes me wonder whether Israel really wants us or only our children.”