1,000 at Alliance Israelite’s 150th birthday party

Alliance Girls’ school, Tripoli, 1905

It was a birthday party to remember: 1,000 people, including politicians, writers, rabbis, community leaders, patrons, celebrities and former pupils from France, Israel, Canada, the US and Morocco, came together at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris on 12 October to celebrate one of the Jewish world’s most remarkable institutions: the Alliance Israelite Universelle.

Holocaust survivors Elie Wiesel (left) and Simone Veil (right) joined Christian Estrosi, French minister for Industry, Daniel Ben-Simon, member of the Knesset, and Andre Azoulay, adviser to the King of Morocco in the same setting that hosted the 100th anniversary celebrations. A private dinner was held afterwards at the Invalides.

Over the last 150 years the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU) has educated one million Jewish children, the vast majority in Muslim lands.

The prominent French Jews who set up the AIU in 1860 as a response to 19th century antisemitism wanted to spread the values of humanism and enlightenment to their benighted co-religionists in the Middle East and North Africa. They ended up creating a social revolution, establishing an educated and modernising Jewish middle class of cadres and businessmen.

But as Jews have fled these countries, so has the Alliance’s scope diminished. Since its 100th anniversary celebrations, Alliance schools from Beirut to Tehran have shut down and today the only Arab country where it still has a presence is Morocco. Two AIU schools in Casablanca take Muslim as well as Jewish pupils. Most of its 25,000 pupils in 46 schools live in Israel and France.
Andre Azoulay represented the King of Morocco

The AIU’s 150 th anniversary celebrations continue in London with a lecture by Sir Martin Gilbert and reminiscence evening on 4 November; and the screening of a film by rabbi Josy Eisenberg telling the story of the AIU on 7 November. For full details seeHarifwebsite.


  • ALLIANCE ISRAELITE UNIVERSELLE will celebrate its 150th Anniversary with the NYC premier of
    “Au commencement était l’école…” At the Beginning was School…a film directed by Rabbi Josy Eisenberg and which traces the remarkable 150-year journey of the Alliance Israélite Universelle.

    The screening is scheduled for Sunday March 13th, 3:00 PM at the Center for Jewish History (15 West 16th Street, Manhattan).

    Post-screening talk with representatives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle: Mr. Marc Eisenberg, new president of the Alliance Israélite Universelle; Mrs. Lucile Astel, Director of Harevim Foundation; Mr. Jean-Claude Kuperminc, Director of the Library and Archives of the Alliance Israélite Universelle.

    The Alliance Israélite Universelle was founded by French Jews in the19th century. Also known as Kol Yisrael Haverim, the Alliance Israélite Universelle has educated one million children and today has 25,000 students in 46 schools in Morocco, France and Israel.

    Fir tickets:

  • The AIU had an office in New York city, mostly for fundrasing. But that office closed down 3 years ago, as there were not enough people in America who understood who the AIU was or what they did. The Jews from Arab countries in America did not support them and they ran out of funds. When the janitor took the "AIU" sign off the door, I put it in the closet. That is where it remains today, in my closet…a memory of an agency which was so important.

    Shelomo Alfassa
    New York

  • Excellent comment, Sylvia, thanks. One must not leave out Sir Moses Montefiore , one of the original philanthropists. The Alliance was not allowed to set up in India, as it was feared that it would dilute the community's religiosity – which indeed did come to paass in places like Iraq, for instance (I do believe there was a AIU aschool in Yemen, however). We are all endebted to the AIU for gving us (or our parents) an excellent education and easing us into the modern age.

  • We should be more appreciative of those admirable men and women who against all odds,provided us with our early education – and an excellent one at that. The programs were exactly the same as in France, plus Judaism and Arabic.

    My parents and myself went to the Alliance school, and I credit those early years with my determination – and ability – to go on to Baccalaureate, then BA, MA and finally Ph.D in the Humanities.

    I want to add that the philanthropists who founded the Alliance school system were French AND British. There were even for a short time a few schools that taught in English but that was very short-lived.

    In Muslim countries, the religious community – Jewish, Muslim – were responsible for early education until age 10, not the government. In the 19th century, apart from natural catastrophes such as famines, Jews had also to endure heavy tax burdens, anti-semitism, extortion, political instability, etc. so that supporting the education system had become almost impossible particularly in small towns.

    We should also recognize the wisdom of the Sephardic Rabbis and their willingness to compromise and accept the reforms while supervising from within (separate girls and boys, modest clothing, teaching of halakha/Hebrew, etc). I think one of the few countries where the Jewish religious authorities didn't accept the Alliance was Yemen and perhaps some other place. This is how the enlightenment wars that took place in Europe were avoided in Muslim countries.
    There is a lot more to add but I'll stop here.

  • This story brought tears to my eyes, truly. Your site is so fascinating and informative. Thank you.


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