Yeshiva University will see its enrollment of undergraduate students from France double when the fall semester begins.
According to the school’s admissions department, the number of French students will rise next month from 20 to perhaps more than 40. The increase comes after two school officials — Ethel Orlian, assistant dean of Y.U.’s Stern College for Women, and Danny Morris, associate director of admissions — took a trip to France in June to promote the university. Enthusiastic crowds, often too large for the meeting halls, greeted the officials, who told the Forward they believe that the widely reported rise of antisemitism in France contributed to their eager reception.
The unprecedented recruiting trip was spurred by one current French Y.U. student, Isaac Barchichat, who told school administrators that many of his friends back home were not pleased with their educational environment and were interested in coming to Y.U. The officials, already noticing an uptick in the number of French applicants and inspired by the call of the new school president, Richard Joel, to serve Jews around the world, planned a weeklong trip that took Orlian and Morris to Paris, Strasbourg and Marseille. Once there, the school’s representatives gave numerous presentations about the university and conferred with parents and students about the application process.
“Students flew in from all over the country,” Morris said, noting that one even came from Greece. “Lines were out the door until 2 in the morning. You just don’t see that here in New York. You don’t see that need.”
Students in France see the opportunities offered by Y.U. in urgent terms, he said, because they sense an increase in anti-Jewish sentiments at home. “There’s no question that the people we met with did not feel comfortable in many areas” because of their Judaism, Morris said. “Many people did not feel comfortable wearing their kippah. Parents and students really expressed concerns about their future there.”
While Orlian does not dispute the impact that antisemitism had on the level of interest generated by the trip, she believes that the strength of Y.U.’s pitch played a major role, as well. “What enticed them was the sheer numbers, having such a rich Jewish community,” she said. Other selling points that she cited included “the lure of New York,” “our unique education” and “having so many opportunities in a Jewish community.” As John Fisher, Y.U.’s director of enrollment management, told the Forward: “We have a lot to offer.”
As Barchichat put it: “Everyone wants to come.”
“We don’t have anything like Y.U. in France,” Barchichat explained. But the problem isn’t merely a lack of Jewish educational institutions; according to him, the very culture of French institutions of learning is not receptive to Judaism. “We have a problem in France,” he said. In addition to the specifically anti-Jewish feelings he encountered, he said that a pervasive scorn for religion exists more broadly in France, as evidenced by the recent ban on headscarves in schools.
Some of the students whom Morris and Orlian met shared devastating stories of how such attitudes affect their educational careers. One would-be doctor said he was forced to repeat a year of medical school after he refused to take an exam on a Jewish holiday. Other students reported that administrators had explicitly told them “to choose between your religion and your schooling,” Morris said. “In today’s day and age, that’s a sad statement on the climate there.”
“Danny and Ethel were very taken aback by the amount of antisemitism,” Fisher said. “I’m sure there’s a connection between [antisemitism in France] and the surge in interest in coming to Y.U.,” even if the students do not come right out and say it.
Of the 30 French students who applied for enrollment this fall, about 25 were accepted, which is above the school’s normal admission rate.