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Jewish Roots: from New Orleans to Israel to Nice

Rue Benoit Bunico, an important street in Jewish Nice history


Last Wednesday evening (France time), Brian Dunhill of Dunhill Financial, Simon Conn, an Overseas Property and Finance Specialist (AKA Mortgage Broker) and I gathered together on Zoom to offer up the “North American Expats in France Quarterly Financial Forum—3rd Quarter.”

During the one-hour webinar, Brian discussed French inflation, interest rates and real estate; I gave an overview of the current property prices in France (citing that Paris and all major French cities are down, while Nice is the one city showing large increases) and Simon got deep into the conversation of mortgages in France offered to expatriates.

Simon Conn

Simon Conn

Simon was very encouraging. With more than 35 years of arranging financing in over 50 countries and having been heavily involved in creating the first residential mortgage facilities for foreign nationals and expats to both purchase and re-mortgage properties in countries all over the world, he has a range of solutions most brokers don’t have!

Watch the webinar in its entirety, and learn who makes a good candidate for a mortgage.

To contact Simon Conn, visit our website page or his own, and be sure to tell Simon that we sent you!


To celebrate my birthday coming up mid-month, I got a wild hair to hop on a plane and go visit old friends in Tel Aviv for a long weekend. They were just as thrilled as I was to have the time, even if for such a short stay. It’s been years since visiting Israel. The last time was for the sad reason of seeing one of our closest friends wither to nothing before our very eyes at the hands of cancer .

Before making flight arrangements, my friend reminded me that El Al Airlines on a Friday is filled with religious Jews who might not be so much fun. In fact, in November of 2018, The Times of Israel reported that “El Al diverts flight after religious passengers cause uproar over Shabbat scare!” El Al had rerouted a flight due to some disturbances caused by religious passengers who were concerned about arriving after sundown after the start of the Shabbat (Sabbath Friday).

Photo from the Times of Israel on El Al airlines

Good advice—a different airline was booked!

I grew up in an American-style Jewish orthodox home, meaning that it wasn’t very orthodox at all. My father did not wear a “kippah” (head covering, AKA yarmulke, skullcap), we did not keep kosher (living in New Orleans with so much seafood makes that tough!), nor did we go to Synagogue every Sabbath. In effect, it was tradition that ruled the roost, rather than prayer, and we didn’t worry too much about breaking a few rules on the Sabbath.

Adrian's Synagogue, New Orleans, at the time she attended

Adrian’s Synagogue, New Orleans, at the time she attended

My mother would put out a spread of seafood on layers of newspaper on Friday night, just like the Catholics of New Orleans would do, and then extol the guilt she was feeling for not serving roast chicken, instead! Then, we would all chime, “Gert, shut the F up and let us enjoy our dinner!” She’d just roll her eyes and walk away, then we’d dig in.

Adrian's mother, Gertrude, eating seafood gumbo (likely on a Friday night)

Adrian’s mother, Gertrude, eating seafood gumbo (likely on a Friday night)

My three sisters and I were all adept at handicrafts such as sewing and knitting, which was not allowed to do on the Sabbath, but we could shop till we dropped without a word being said. Meanwhile, we were all indoctrinated to believe that “making Aliyah” was the ultimate high.

Aliyah is “the act of going up,” specifically to living in the “Land of Israel,” a fundamental principle of Zionism. In 1950, the Israeli parliament passed the Law of Return granting all diaspora Jews, as well as their offspring and grandchildren, the right to settle in Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship based on their connection to their Jewish heritage. This is a good fallback for me should I ever wish to renounce my US citizenship without having acquired French citizenship.

My closest high school friends and I were all part of a Zionist youth organization that put this idea in our heads and led to ALL of us spending our “Junior Year Abroad” in Israel. They were all in Israeli universities, while I had graduated Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and chose to spend the year on a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley as a volunteer.

From left to right, Wendy Fastman (deceased), Adrian, Kathy Rasner, Ellen Bitton (deceased), photo taken in Tel Aviv, 1973

From left to right, Wendy Fastman (deceased), Adrian, Kathy Rasner, Ellen Bitton (deceased), photo taken in Tel Aviv, 1973

A kibbutz is a distinctive form of settlement found exclusively in Israel. It is a communal society with traditional roots in agriculture. The first kibbutz, Deganya Aleph, was established in 1910, and as of today, there exist more than 270 kibbutzim in Israel. Over time, they have evolved significantly from their agricultural origins, with many transitioning into private entities. The one I chose was Ashdot Ya’akov Me’uhad just south of the Sea of Galilee near the Jordanian border with a population of a bit more than 500 “kibbutznikim” (residents). Volunteers were housed free of charge in exchange for working. This one offered a half-day of Hebrew lessons six days a week, with the other half-day at work, whatever that job was. It was a totally socialistically-run kibbutz with a communal dining room and children’s houses, where the kids lived separately from their parents to allow them the freedom to work without encumbrances.

Kibbutz Ashdot Ya'akov Me'uchad

Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’akov Me’uchad

At the age of 20 I lived there for almost a year and had the time of my life. I learned Hebrew, I worked at many different jobs: picking olives, ironing shirts in the communal laundry, washing dishes by hand three meals a day, and ultimately as a nanny in a children’s house where I could more easily communicate with the five-year-olds. The volunteers were fun and the kibbutznikim were even more fun. Living in a totally socialistic system is something I thinnk every American should do in order to fully understand the difference between the socialist and the capitalist ideas. They both have their assets and liabilities, pluses and minuses, with what’s in the middle as the ultimate answer. This is what Americans need to learn!

Seven years later after kibbutz-living, I returned to Israel for a trial run of what it would be like to live there, but this time my not-yet-husband and I rented an apartment in a suburb of Tel Aviv to experience city living. It was then we both realized that Israel wasn’t our cup of tizane (herbal tea). What I missed was the diversity of America, with so many different ethnic groups offering up many different points of view. As a kid I was taught to see assimilation as a bad thing, but after experiencing homogeneity of such a degree, assimilation looked like the blend of tea that fit better.

Still, there were many lessons to be learned living within a totally Jewish environment and I don’t regret a single minute. Since then, Tel Aviv has become a very different city. In 1979, the population was 1,320,000, and today, it’s 4,421,000! Can you just imagine?! I can’t wait to see how it has changed, even since my last visit. You’ll hear all about it upon my return!

Population growth of Tel Aviv

Population growth of Tel Aviv


This coming Thursday, at Après-Midi in Nice, historian, Robert Levitt, will be speaking. He’s a formidable expert on the Jewish history of Nice. While working in the archives of the Alpes-Maritimes in Nice, France, sorting Holocaust-era documents related to a 20th-century politician in Vichy France, he ran across a letter that gripped his attention like no other. It was a letter from a man about to be deported by the Gestapo because they were convinced he was Jewish, when in actuality, he was not. It was a letter that made him realize that he had moved to one of the most important cities for Jews in World War II, and also a city with a long Jewish history.

Robert Levitt, Historian

Nice is one of the rare places where Jewish history is everywhere and alive. In almost every apartment building there is a story and those stories weren’t just of the twentieth century, but throughout history. The first Jew was discovered in the region in Roman times, and during the medieval period, Jews who were expelled from England, France, Spain, Portugal, Rhodes, Gibraltar and many more came to Nice to find refuge. In the Second World War, Nice was the last refuge for Jews in Europe and it is estimated that as many as 50,000 Jews came to Nice to find shelter. Nowhere else in France could one find kosher food, or wear traditional rabbinical garb, nor speak Yiddish openly on the streets, except in Nice. That is until September 8, 1943, when the Italians quit the war and the Germans invaded the city.

Nice has the 69th largest Jewish population

Unlike elsewhere, everything remains in Nice. Nothing was destroyed by bombs and it all remains operating. The 19th-century synagogue remains the primary synagogue in the city. The places local Niçois walk by every day were the places frequented during the war, or where Jews were saved or captured. Even the famous hotels where Jews were rounded up or interrogated and tortured remain open today, although their history is little known and often hidden.

The entry to the Jewish cemetery in Nice

The entry to the Jewish cemetery in Nice

Robert, who is writing a doctoral thesis on Jews in Nice in the 13th-15th centuries at the Université de Perpignan, will illuminate us about the history of the city of Nice through the prism of Jewish history and take us on a tour of our own city in a way most haven’t seen before.

I am looking forward to being fully enlightened. Trust me, you won’t want to miss it! Meet us at Le Félix Faure from 3 to 5 p.m. Visit our Après-Midi page for more information. See you there!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds with her high school friends, photo taken at a wedding in Israel, August 2011Adrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

Adrian with her high school friends, photo taken at a wedding in Israel, August 2011

P.S. This Nouvellettre® is dedicated to the memory of my two New Orleans friends who have since passed away, way too young: Ellen Dorfman Bitton and Wendy Halprin Fastman.


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