450 French Jews arrive on aliya

Event marks peak of an intense year of preparation and organization.

french aliya 224.88 (photo credit: Daniel Cohen)
french aliya 224.88
(photo credit: Daniel Cohen)
After an intense year of preparation and organization, the Jewish Agency, in conjunction with the French aliya organization AMI, greeted 450 new French immigrants on Wednesday at Ben-Gurion Airport. The olim, who ranged in age from three months to 69 years, came on three special flights - two from Paris and one from Marseille. This marks a peak in French aliya, which has been on the rise since 2000. The French Jewish community, numbering close to half a million people - the second-largest in the world - has continually expressed a Zionistic bent, sending almost 80,000 immigrants to Israel since the establishment of the state. Recognizing this growing trend, Jewish Agency chairman Ze'ev Bielski said that "the arrival of hundreds of new immigrants is a real celebration for the Jewish people and the State of Israel. The Jewish Agency will continue to develop new programs to promote aliya from the West and assist in the absorption of these immigrants in Israel." The Jewish Agency partnered with AMI - an absorption organization for French Jewry founded by Pierre Besnainou - in 2001 in an attempt to strengthen aliya from France. Agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz explained that though "French aliya by and large is a successful one and France has got the highest immigration percentage to Israel from a Western country," joining with AMI encourages French Jews to immigrate by helping to make the process more user-friendly. Since then, 19,000 olim, the majority of whom are under 35, have moved to Israel with the help of the Jewish Agency and AMI. After resolving to make the drastic move to a foreign country, every immigrant must face the difficult decision of where to live. But some of the French immigrants are returning to old homes. Geulah Ben-Moshe, a returning resident, moved with her husband and daughter to her childhood home in Netanya, proudly exclaiming, "It has been my dream to return for 32 years!" Others relocate to Ashdod, Ra'anana, and Jerusalem to be near absorption centers, holy sites, and schools. Some come on the ultimate vacation, anticipating enjoying life in Israel while spending time with their grandchildren. Others expect a slightly more difficult transition, balancing both the language and workforce barriers. Many plan on working, both in Israel and in France, but first need a self-imposed period of adjustment before entering their fields. Valerie Cudkowicz, a writer, mother of four and immigrant from the small town of Metz, expressed a desire to perfect her Hebrew and settle her family here before hunting for her preferred job as a writer of tourist guides.