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February 12, 2016     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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February 12, 2016
 

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 12, 2016 PAGE 11A By Cnaan Liphshiz RAANANA, Israel (JTA)-- 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 Jew- ish state. But six months after settling here, she has already quit a $6-per-hour job as a ca- shier 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 60, I was told that lift- ing 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 li- cense. 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 ter- rible 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 imi- tating 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, nurs- es 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 Bensa- doun, 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 Ber- dah believe Israeli authorities have presented unnecessary obstacles to protect local professionals from immi- grant competition. The Israeli Health Ministry declined to respond to the charge and referred all inquiries to the Ministry for Immigrant Ab- sorption, which told JTA that efforts are underway to" smooth out the certification process for health care profes- sionals. "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 last month to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the meantime, French immigrants are taking mat- ters into their own hands. In 2014, they launched an aggressive lobbying effort to break through the bu- reaucratic tangles they fault for making absorption ex- ceedingly difficult for those already in Israel, while deter- ring countless others from coming. The lobbying, led by Qualita and its member organiza- tions, has already led to some changes, including the easing of certification re- quirements for French physi- cians in 2014 and pending leg- islation 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. Last month, the lobbying effort received a big push from Meyer Habib, a Jewish member of France's National Assembly and friend of Ne- tanyahu, who declared he would advise French Jews against moving to Israel un- less progress is made within three months. "I cannot support a situa- tion which ~reates 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 be- cause 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 aware- ness 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 Every day that you're outside, you're exposed to dangerous, but invisible, ultraviolet (UV) sunlight, teft unprotected, prolonged exposure to UV radiation can seriously damage the eye, leading to cataracts, skin cancer around the eyelid and other eye disorders. Prote~ting your eyes is important to maintaining eye health now and in the future. J Shield your eyes (and your family's eyes) from harmful I~/rays. Year sunglasses with maximum IJV protection. I THEVISIONCOUNCIL Cnaan Liphshiz Catherine Berdah, right, with her husband anddaughters in their apartment in Raanana, Israel. on Israel. But the situation has put strains on her marriage. Her husband, Michel, wants the family to return. "You think you have some- thing 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 model- ing career. "The silver lining here is that the girls are really fitting in," Berdah said. 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