Sunday might represent a new beginning for Ze'ev Boim as he takes over the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, but he faces many challenges left over from his predecessors' terms in office.
Chief among them is the absorption of some 20,000 Falash Mura scheduled to come from Ethiopia over the next three years, if the new government implements earlier cabinet decisions to speed up their arrival.
The descendents of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity under duress, the Falash Mura are being welcomed under the Law of Entry, which allows the government limit their immigration to several hundred people per month, as opposed to the Law of Return, which grants immediate immigrant status to Jews, without the possibility of a quota.
One reason given for the cap on the Ethiopians' migration is the cost and difficulty in absorbing this population, which, in addition to learning Hebrew, needs to be taught about Judaism and living in modern society. Ethiopians also stay longer in absorption centers and receive enhanced housing benefits after they leave. American Jewry has launched a major campaign to help the Ethiopian newcomers, but the Absorption Ministry will need additional funding to serve them.
In addition, the massive wave of immigration during the 1990s has created difficulties that still need to be addressed. Young adults from the former Soviet Union exhibit disproportionately high rates of alcoholism, drug use and criminal behavior. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni set up programs to help this population when she was absorption minister, and the Jewish Agency recently started a project to help at-risk youth in towns in the periphery, many of whom are first or second generation Israelis. But activists say that more needs to be done - both in terms of effort and of shekels.
Another dilemma faced primarily by FSU olim requires more political will than funding, but that doesn't make it any easier to resolve: Some 300,000 people who came to build new lives in Israel after the fall of the Iron Curtain can't legally marry in their adopted country. Not considered Jews according to Halacha and the Rabbinate, they can only establish families - whether with one another or with Israelis recognized as Jews - by marrying abroad.
When it comes to the Falash Mura, Boim and his Kadima Party would seem to have the support of coalition member Shas, which pushed to bring them to Israel the last time they were in the government. But when it comes to finding mechanisms to ease conversion among FSU immigrants, or to set up options for civil marriage, they will likely be a major obstacle.
The Anglo community, for its part, would like to see the new minister focus on helping immigrants search and train for employment, and navigate Israeli bureaucracy, which also need to be reduced. Often the two issues intersect, as difficulties professionals face in getting licensed here can prove frustrating and costly.
"There's a role for the absorption minister in advocating for olim to be assisted so they can become productive citizens," according to Josie Arbel, director of absorption services for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.
Neil Gillman, aliya counselor for the United Jewish-Israel Appeal, which helps British Commonwealth immigrants, also said that one of the Absorption Ministry's most important jobs involved interaction with other ministries. He said the ministry should encourage other government offices to follow its lead with a friendlier, customer-oriented, personalized approach in dealing with immigrants.
"It would be a warmer welcome to the country for olim," he said.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>