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Israel immigration efforts should prioritize American aliya, Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim said Wednesday.
"This is the major effort that we should make: to convince American Jewry to come and make aliya to Israel," Boim told The Jerusalem Post a day before the first summer plane-load of olim is due to arrive from New York.
"The main efforts [are] towards the United States, because it is the major Jewish community, and they face major problems, mainly assimilation and mixed marriage," he said. "They themselves understand that they should be asking very serious questions about their identity and future as Jewish people."
Boim praised the efforts of organizations dedicated to increasing the numbers of North American immigrants, such as Nefesh B'Nefesh, which is sponsoring Thursday's flight in partnership with the Jewish Agency.
The 240 new immigrants set to arrive early in the morning will be joined by a few passengers offering moral support, among them Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, Dr. Saul Singer, international vice president of the Conservative movement's United Synagogue Youth, and Red Sox Executive Vice President Charles Steinberg, whose sister is making aliya.
"It's an honor to be able to escort her on this flight," Steinberg said over the phone from John F. Kennedy Airport minutes before their departure. "The effect on one's spirit is just tremendous. For all the elements of life we've seen in America, we know it pales in comparison to the ultimate spiritual ascent. When you are sitting here with these families, my sister among them, you know it's coming from the holiest of places. It's emotional. It's spiritual. It's remarkable to feel and to observe."
Boim described America as the leading source of aliya, in part because of the size of its community, which numbers over five million. He also pointed to France and Canada, as well as the English-speaking world, as key pools of potential olim. Last year, 3,005 new immigrants and returning Israelis came from France and 2,599 came from the United States.
Boim indicated, however, that the inter-ministerial committee established under the last government to recommend a unified immigration policy for non-Jews was now moribund.
He said the government would stick to its current cobble of policies regarding naturalization and make case-by-case exemptions as needed rather than set out criteria such as age requirements, quotas and loyalty oaths such as those under discussion.
"It is difficult to formulate principles because you have to look at the differences [in cases], and, since we are a Jewish state, there are very unique and specific issues that come up that we have to give the right solution to at the right time, but [all] under the major policy, which is according to the Law of Return for Jews and the Law of Entry for non-Jews," he said.
But Boim did suggest that there was movement on the issue of civil unions, the lack of which has long been a point of particular contention for the approximately 300,000 who cannot currently get married in Israel.
"I think that in this term of the Knesset and under this government, we'll have a new law that gives a solution," he said.