Peres returns home with 25 new immigrants from Latin America

Peres returns home with

peres olim brazil 248 88 (photo credit: GPO)
peres olim brazil 248 88
(photo credit: GPO)
President Shimon Peres returned home on Wednesday from state visits to Brazil and Argentina bringing with him 25 new immigrants from Brazil, Uruguay, Peru and Argentina. Peres met the new Israelis at a special ceremony at Sao Paulo Airport in Brazil at the entrance sleeve to the El Al plane which transported them to Israel. They all wore blue and white sweat shirts emblazoned with the words, "Presidential Aliya." It was the first time in his many trips abroad that Peres had brought new immigrants home with him. "It's a fantastic feeling," he told The Jerusalem Post before embarking. "I hope I have the opportunity to bring many more immigrants." Peres thanked them and their families for making the decision to make their futures in Israel, and chatted with the immigrants about their plans. All were issued new immigrant cards, autographed photographs of the president and mezuzot to put up on their new homes. Jewish Agency officials working in South America accompanied the newcomers on the plane, where they were also greeted on the loudspeaker system by Captain Shuki Shefer to the applause of other passengers. Daniel Altshulach, 20, from Rio de Janeiro, admitted to being a little apprehensive. He has no family in Israel, "just friends" who have been advising him. In addition, he has read up a lot about many aspects of the country. He will spend his first six months at an ulpan on Kibbutz Tzora, after which he will do his army service. Sarah Cagy, 61, also from Rio, was eagerly looking forward to being reunited with her son and daughter. Her son lives in Alon Shvut, her daughter in Mitzpeh Jericho. "It's the realization of a dream," she said, her voice betraying the bewilderment that it is actually happening. Carolina Diamond, 42, a radio broadcaster from Argentina, had received her mezuza the previous evening, from Peres himself, at a Jewish community rally at the Luna Park Sports Stadium in Buenos Aires, where some 5,000 people had given him an enthusiastic welcome. Diamond, no less excited than her fellow immigrants, said that going to Israel was a very emotional experience. "At last my dream has come true. I'm finally going home," she said. Diamond has a brother who is studying for a doctoral degree at the Hebrew University. She will be staying with him in the Jerusalem neighborhood of French Hill, and will study at an ulpan for six months. When the plane landed in Israel, Shefer welcomed the new immigrants home both in Hebrew and in English. In the latter, he referred to them not as new immigrants, but as new citizens. In actual fact they will not be new citizens for a few days yet. According to a Jewish Agency spokesman, they will receive their ID cards some time over the coming week. It is anticipated that some 1,200 South Americans will have made aliya for the whole of 2009, he said. Prior to leaving Argentina for Sao Paulo and the flight home, Peres addressed the Argentine Council on International Relations, and emphasized the importance of adapting to a new world and to new norms. He even cited himself as an example, noting that in previous eras 86 was regarded as old. "At my age, 86, I don't feel old. Why should I - because once 86 was old?" Peres also launched into one of his pet subjects - the significance of science, which he declared to be more important than territory. "Today there is no point in fighting for another thousand miles when you should be fighting for another thousand scientists," he said, adding that while in previous times discussions between visiting heads of state and prime ministers or foreign ministers hinged on diplomacy, "today we discuss science." In his meetings with the Jewish communities of Brazil and Argentina, Peres stressed the need to place more emphasis on Jewish education to ensure that the next generation will remain Jewish. At the Scholem Aleichem School in Buenos Aires, his fears for the preservation of the Jewish identity of Argentine Jews were allayed when he asked how many people of the hundreds present, including adults and children understood Hebrew. Nearly every hand in the auditorium shot up. When the master of ceremonies spoke up, several of the adults sitting in the row behind the Israelis, leaned forward to interpret in flawlessly fluent Hebrew. From the school en route to the airport, Peres stopped off at the AMIA community center to lay wreaths in memory of the victims of terrorist attacks against the Israeli Embassy and AMIA in 1992 and 1994 Very soon after landing in Israel he held a meeting with French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, who had specially come to Israel to confer the French Legion of Honor on Peres's son-in-law, French-born Prof. Raphi Walden, who is a member of the Board of Directors of Physicians for Human Rights. Walden, who is the personal physician to the president, is also the deputy director of the Sheba-Tel Hashomer Medical Center. Kouchner, who is one of the founders of Doctors without Borders, is a personal friend of Walden's. Prior to his meeting with Peres in Tel Aviv, Kouchner was at the French Consulate in Jerusalem where he signed an agreement for the reconstruction of a Gaza Hospital that suffered heavy damages during Operation Cast Lead. The project, including new equipment, will cost in the range of €2 million Euro. Kouchner, who was supposed to arrive Israel in the last week of October, postponed the visit when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denied him the right to cross into Gaza from Israel. This caused somewhat of a diplomatic rift between France and Israel which Peres was asked to repair. After the meeting, the two men met again at the residence of French Ambassador Christophe Bigot for the conferment ceremony. Former Meretz Party leader Yossi Beilin, who was a Peres protege, was also conferred with the Legion of Honor.