Jewish immigration to Israel increases by almost 20%

“This is a trend that has been increasing: Aliya is younger and better educated,“ Jewish Agency for Israel chairman Sharansky says.

September 22, 2011 22:40
3 minute read.
An NBN flight brings new olim to Israel, Tues.

NBN aliya flight_311. (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)

Some 21,300 people made aliya during the Jewish year of 5771, the Jewish Agency for Israel announced on Wednesday – an increase of about 19 percent over the previous year.

For the third year in a row Jewish immigration from North America was up, reaching 4,070, opposed to 3,720 in 5770.

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“We’re very happy with Nefesh B’Nefesh which has made aliya from North America a lot more attractive, but we haven’t seen a dramatic rise in the numbers and that’s why we believe strengthening Jewish identity will bring more people from North America to Israel,” said JAFI Chairman Natan Sharansky in response to the new numbers.

The largest single group of olim this year, like the one before, came from the former Soviet Union. Some 8,200 people made aliya over the past 12 months from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, the Baltic states and Central Asian countries. But the JAFI chairman shrugged off suggestions this might be the start of a new exodus of Jews from the region.

“Then there were three-million Jews in the USSR,” said the former Refusnik, who was imprisoned by Soviet authorities for years because he wanted to make aliya. “A million went to Israel, a million went elsewhere and now there’s about a million left. Still, it’s one of the biggest Jewish communities that is being both assimilated and strengthening its Jewish identity through summer camps, masa programs and other programs at the same time. I don’t want to get hopes up, but we'll see immigration like this in years to come, but not like during the 90s.”

While aliya from the FSU today may indeed pale in comparison to the great wave of Jewish immigration that took place two decades ago, when hundreds of thousands of Jews left mostly for Israel, the modest resurgence in recent years is surprising considering the overall number of Jews in the region is shrinking.

Another factor setting the current immigration apart from earlier ones is the immigrants’ average age. According to JAFI, over 60% of those who moved to Israel from the FSU over the past 12 months are under the age of 34 – almost double the figures reported in 2005.

“This is a trend that has been increasing: Aliya is younger and better educated,“ Sharansky said. “That’s why JAFI’s activities in the FSU focuses on the young.”

While the largest group of olim may have been from the FSU, the largest proportionate rise in immigration came from Ethiopia. According to JAFI, 2,780 immigrants made aliya from the African country – a hike of 210% from the year before.

The vast majority of Ethiopians making aliya are members of the Falashmura, an ethnic group which claims it was forcibly converted from Judaism to Christianity generations ago. While they would not be eligible to immigrate to the Jewish state under the Law of Return, the government has set up a special track allowing them to immigrate as long as they undergo Orthodox Jewish conversions.

Some 8,000 Falashmura members are expected to make aliya under the current plan, after which the government has said immigration policy from the African country will be the same as the rest of the world.

“We promised this will be the last batch and have all the groups in agreement for the first time,” Sharansky said.

“After that the policy in Ethiopia will be the same as the one we have elsewhere.”

So far, about 2,500 of the 8,000 quota have arrived. The rest are expected to come gradually over the next few years.

Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver on Thursday welcomed the rise in the number of olim saying it helped strengthen the Jewish state.

“This data demonstrates the continuing trend of rising aliya and the strengthening of Zionism,” said Landver.

“In recent years we have seen consistent aliya, and at this important time the State of Israel must work to maintain the trend and continue to encourage Jews in the Diaspora to immigrate to Israel.”

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