Israel to mark day celebrating immigrants

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December 28, 2015 00:36

Bill would require Knesset, state institutions and educational system to devote one day every year to immigrants.

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ukraine aliya

New immigrants from Ukraine make aliya, December 30, 2014. (photo credit:REUTERS)

A bill enacting an annual day celebrating immigration to Israel passed the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday, paving the way for a preliminary vote in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.

The legislation, sponsored by Likud MKs Miki Zohar and Abraham Naguise, the latter chairman of the Knesset Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, would recognize and celebrate the central place that aliya holds in the Zionist ethos and allow for expanded recognition of its role in the country’s history and culture.

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The bill would require the Knesset, state institutions and educational system to devote one day every year to immigrants, Naguise and Zohar said on Sunday.

“This year, the State of Israel marked a record high for Jewish immigration and took a historic decision to allow the immigration of Ethiopian Jewry. We must not be satisfied with that and must increase the rate of immigration to Israel from the four corners of the earth on the one hand and, on the other, improve the absorption of immigrants. For this, the country was founded, and that is what will ensure its future as a Jewish and democratic state,” said Naguise.

Last month, the cabinet unanimously approved an Interior Ministry proposal backed by Naguise to resume aliya from Ethiopia, which was suspended in 2013.

Around 9,000 people have been waiting in Addis Ababa and Gondar transit camps for several years in the hopes of making their way to the Jewish state. However, Jerusalem closed its doors in 2013 following a ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport at which officials declared the “end” of Ethiopian aliya.

“The immigration from around the world proves one thing, that a nation cannot be occupiers in its own land,” said Zohar.

While Jews were expelled from their homeland they “have not abandoned her for a moment and return to their historic home as part of the national Zionist miracle,” he continued. “A national day of immigration is designed to implement and reinforce the historic right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, a people who received the land for thousands of years and returned en masse with the State of Israel.”

Jewish Agency spokesman Yigal Palmor said, “The Jewish Agency has expressed its support and encouragement to the MKs who drafted the bill at the very outset of this initiative two years ago. Naturally, we are satisfied to see this move reach this decisive phase now, and hope for a positive conclusion soon.”

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, said, “We applaud the new law commemorating Aliya Day in an official stately capacity. It serves as a living reminder of the miracle of the ingathering of our generation in their Jewish homeland. It in fact humbles us as a nation to give honor to the Jews from around the world, from different backgrounds and cultures, who have all gathered together to strengthen and unite the Jewish state.

“This is a true honor to all olim and will help highlight the beautiful tapestry of aliya and what has helped grow our young state into a strong unified country,” Fass continued.

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which recently opened its own aliya program, said that it commended the government for the legislation intended to “honor olim.”

“Olim are the engine that keeps Israel going – their Zionism, their courage to start life anew, their skill sets and education which have contributed so much to the continuing success of Israel as a hi-tech, medical and entrepreneurial leader,” said spokeswoman Tali Aronsky.

Rabbi Dov Lipman, a former MK who made aliya from the US, was thrilled to hear the announcement.

“I am very happy that this law passed. I was proud to introduce Aliya Day in the Knesset during the 19th Knesset and we worked on similar legislation with a focus on education,” he said. “I hope that the education component receives the bulk of the focus – giving students from all backgrounds the chance to tell their story and to be proud of their heritage.”

Almost 30,000 Jews moved to Israel in 2015, up from 26,500 last year, the largest influx in 15 years, the Jewish Agency announced last week.

Aliya has been on the rise in recent years, driven largely by the flow of emigrants from France and Ukraine, with this year’s increase following last year’s 32-percent surge in newcomers.

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