Mel Lazareck and Ken Zaifman couldn’t have chosen a worse time – or perhaps a better time, for their purposes – to arrive in Paris.
The two Winnipeg Jewish community representatives were in Paris earlier this week to gauge interest among French Jewish families who may be considering relocation to Canada (or the United States) about coming to Winnipeg instead of Montreal, which might be the more obvious destination.
Lazareck, a past chair of the Combined Jewish Appeal and past president of the local Jewish National Fund organization in Winnipeg, and Zaifman, a prominent immigration lawyer, left Winnipeg on Nov. 13, for Paris, the same day terrorists turned the City of Light into a city of fear and darkness.
“We arrived on Saturday around noon, after a four-hour delay to determine whether Air Canada would actually make the Friday-night flight to Paris,” Lazareck said by email from the French capital.
“Arriving at our hotel in the Marais area, we noticed that there seemed to be few people on the streets,” he said.
“We then made contact with individuals that had previously responded to our ad in the Paris Jewish press. The following day, we started meeting couples and individuals, along with emailing additional people that had responded to our ad.”
Lazareck added that every individual or couple he and Zaifman met were impressive. “The men and women we met were well educated, employed and most of them had young families,” he said. “All of them spoke English reasonably well. They ranged in age was from their mid-20s to early 50s. All wanted to leave because of ongoing security issues,” he said.
“I know we have not even scratched the surface of those that want to leave.”
He said Zaifman was able to explain how the Manitoba immigration process works and that everyone they spoke with are providing current CVs.
“My first impression of each person we met was their sincerity and commitment to leave the country that most of them had lived in their entire lives,” Lazareck said.
“I tried to imagine myself at their particular age, after spending my entire life being raised, educated and pursuing my career, making the decision to leave my family, my home, because I could or did not trust the future security situation in my homeland… And let’s not forget that all of the people that responded to our ad responded before Friday the 13th’s tragedy in Paris.”
The Paris initiative was Lazareck’s idea. Twenty years ago, a Winnipeg Jewish delegation and a Manitoba government representative made the first of several visits to Buenos Aires in an effort to present Winnipeg as a destination for Jews looking to leave Argentina in the face of a dire economy and fears of anti-Semitism.
The visits paid off, as several Jewish families from Argentina (as well as other South American countries) immigrated to Winnipeg, which helped stabilize community population numbers.
Lazareck is hoping to repeat that success with a similar outreach program to France’s embattled Jewish community.
He and Zaifman travelled to Paris under the aegis of the federal government’s annual Destination Canada initiative whose purpose, Lazareck said, is to attract skilled immigrants to this country. Organized by the Canadian Embassy in Paris, participants include representatives from provinces, territories, cities, regions, associations and French-speaking community groups, as well as settlement organizations.
France has about 700,000 Jews, the largest Jewish population in Europe. However, waves of immigration of Muslims with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic leanings has led to rising anti-Semitism in western Europe in general and France in particular. There have been several deadly attacks on Jews in France in recent years, and many French Jews are planning to leave for Israel or elsewhere.
In an interview before leaving, Lazareck said this project has been in the works for about a year. “I started meeting with people in St. Boniface [Winnipeg’s largely French-speaking suburb], as well as Manitoba government people and Jewish Federation of Winnipeg representatives,” he said.
“We have a good product to sell,” Zaifman said, also before leaving. “We have a vibrant Jewish community with a lot of experience in resettling Jewish families. We want to put Winnipeg on the map for French Jews who may be already considering leaving France, but may not want to go to Israel and may only think of Montreal when it comes to Canada. We want to talk to as many people as we can and encourage them to pay a visit to Winnipeg.”
Lazareck isn’t expecting immediate results. “We are just starting out to see what interest there may be,” he said. “Even if we are successful, it takes time for potential immigrants to get here [under Manitoba’s provincial nominee program].”