Lawyers election ends division among French Jewish groups

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

PARIS — The election of a new president of CRIF has marked the reunion of the political and religious organizations representing French Jewry.

Henri Hajdenberg, 48, was elected May 21 to serve a three-year term as president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, known by its French acronym, CRIF.

Hajdenberg, a lawyer, defeated businessman Roger Pinto, 62, for the leadership of the umbrella body representing France's secular Jewish organizations.

Hajdenberg replaces Jean Kahn, 64, who served two consecutive terms, the maximum allowable under CRIF's bylaws. Kahn continues to serve as president of the European Jewish Congress.

CRIF, which was founded in 1943, is a federation of 59 French Jewish organizations, ranging from the small Association of Jewish Painters and Sculptors to the United Jewish Social Fund, the leading charity organization of France's estimated 750,000 Jews.

The election marked the return to CRIF of the Consistoire Central, the body in charge of the religious needs of the community.

More than six years ago, Jean-Paul Elkann, then president of the Consistoire, decided to leave CRIF because Theo Klein, Kahn's predecessor at CRIF, had created the European Jewish Congress and affiliated CRIF to it.

Elkann had reasoned that because EJC was an affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, American Jewry would have a say over the affairs of France's Jews.

After Kahn was elected president of the Consistoire a few months ago, he promised he would return it to CRIF, a move he accomplished just before the election of his successor.

After his election, Hajdenberg said in an interview that he had three priorities.

The first was to establish a "moral front" against extreme right-wing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose anti-immigrant National Front won 15 percent of the vote in France's recent national elections.

"My second priority is to resensitize French Jews to the issues facing Israel," Hajdenberg said, noting that "things have changed" since Israel entered into the peace process with its Arab neighbors and that "our attitude toward Israel must change, too."

Hajdenberg set as his third priority to help France's young Jews preserve their Jewish identity in the face of assimilative pressures, a task he described as "probably the toughest one" confronting him.