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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski [file])
The cabinet approved an initiative on Sunday billed as an effort to promote a new wave of aliya from the former Soviet Union.
Immigrants who come during 2009 are eligible, with benefits paid out through 2010. Families will get grants of NIS 24,000, much of it to help with the first year's rent and vocational training. The money is in addition to the absorption basket given to every new oleh.
"NIS 24,000 will definitely make a difference," Jewish Agency spokesman Alex Selsky said. "That's a year of rent for a NIS 2,000-a-month apartment."
The NIS 32 million program is being funded in equal parts by the Jewish Agency and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.
With FSU aliya down from some 10,000 in 2004 to just 5,700 in 2008, according to Absorption Ministry figures, the new program is being hailed by the two agencies as a first-of-its-kind effort to entice immigration from a part of the world previously thought too poor to require much convincing.
The program can only support some 1,300 immigrating households, or one-half of 1 percent of the 800,000 potential olim the government believes currently reside in the former Soviet Union.
There were currently no plans to expand the program, Selsky said, but he insisted there was cause for optimism that the drop in aliya could be reversed.
The region's unusually severe recession, coupled with at least 260 recorded anti-Semitic incidents in 2008 and the financial incentives on offer from the Israeli government, might be enough to engender a new wave of immigration, he said.
"Times of crisis contain in them opportunities that the government must find and actualize," said Absorption Minister Eli Aflalo, calling the new program a "historic step" meant to "create a new wave of aliya from the FSU for the first time since the 1990s."