Nostalgia Sunday – The French School
Walking down Cremieux Street in Jerusalem yesterday, I was suddenly struck by its connection to the current implosion of the Arab world. Adolphe Cremieux, was the president of first Alliance Israélite Universelle, the Paris-based international Jewish organization founded in 1860 to arm Jews with self-defense and self-sufficiency through education and professional development.
The organization took as its motto the rabbinic injunction Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh (“All Jews bear responsibility for one another”).
According to the organization’s Kol Israel Haverim online history, “The 1860 founders recommended the integration of ideas from the revolution of 1789 – equality, justice and human rights, together with the principals of Judaism…” It also embarked on a mission to educate the Jews of the Middle East through French education and culture. A mere two years later, the first Lycee Alliance opened in Tetouan, Morocco. “It was a cornerstone that in time became a widespread network of schools from Morocco to Iran”.
But AIU’s struggle for equal rights extended to other minorities as well. For instance, “in 1860, [it] acted on behalf of Lebanese Christians, victims of a popular uprising, and in 1863 the organization interceded at the Spanish Ministry of Justice on behalf of imprisoned Protestants who were prohibited from spreading their religion.”
In 1870, founding member Charles Netter, received a tract of land from the Ottoman Empire as a gift and opened the Mikveh Israel agricultural school, the first of a network of Jewish schools in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel.
By 1900, Alliance Israelite Universelle was operating 100 schools with a combined student population of 26,000. Its greatest efforts were concentrated in Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey, but there were schools throughout the Middle East.
In an essay about the Jews of Egypt, Denise Douek Telio writes, “Alliance Israelite Schools were free and open to all religious denominations… My classmates were Jewish, Muslim and Christians girls. We went to each other homes to do our homework and to socialize.”
According to Encyclopedia Iranica, “[in l898] the Alliance finally succeeded in opening its first school for boys in Tehran. Joseph Cazès was appointed as the head teacher of its 350 pupils. Cazès also opened a school for girls with 150 pupils. The Alliance was warmly received by Persian authorities…On the eve of the 1979 revolution, the Alliance operated 7 schools in Tehran with 1,800 pupils and 4 schools [in other cities] with 1,286 pupils.”
Today, thousands of students are still being educated at around 50 Alliance Israélite Universelle institutes and schools — but Morocco is only Arab country still with an AIU school.
The historic schools in Israel still exist: the Alliance High School in Tel Aviv, Alliance Israélite Universelle High School in Haifa, Rene Cassin High School and the Braunshweig Conservative High School in Jerusalem.
There are three schools within the Mikve Israel Youth Village: a state high school and a religious state high school specializing in life and natural sciences, environmental sciences, and biotechnology; and the Raymond Lauwan French-Israeli high school established in 2007 as a joint initiative of the Israeli and French governments.
The AIU network also includes the School for the Deaf in Jerusalem where deaf students, Jewish and Arab, with various mental and physical disabilities study together in a unique model of coexistence.
You can read a lot more about the development of AIU’s school network throughout the Jewish communities in the Middle East, (including the education and modernization of women), in the book The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times. More images from the Egyptian Jewish community that was can be found at the Historical Society of Jews From Egypt site.