'Israel soon to be larger than Diaspora'

Netanyahu welcomes 238 new N. American olim, says aliya gives Jews ability to control fate, destiny.

Netanyahu US olim 248.88 (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)
Netanyahu US olim 248.88
(photo credit: Sasson Tiram)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed a planeload of olim on Tuesday at Ben-Gurion Airport, telling them that "for the first time in 2,000 years, there are going to be more Jews in Israel than outside it." Speaking to a terminal full of olim from the United States and Canada, who came with Nefesh B'Nefesh on the organization's 38th chartered aliya flight since the first one in July 2002, Netanyahu noted that Israel's Jewish population was nearing the six million mark. It is hard to gauge the number of Jews in the Diaspora. In the largest community - America - the only effective tool is a telephone poll. Nevertheless, Diaspora Jewry is usually estimated at between six and seven million, though some demographers and scholars consider this figure low. Netanyahu told the 238 new immigrants that aliya to the State of Israel had given the Jewish people "our ability to control our fate and our destiny." In particular, he welcomed the "professionalism in work and the [drive] to excellence, and the antipathy to bureaucracy" which North American olim bring with them to the Jewish state. He called on the new Israelis to work to make Israel "the most advanced country in the world." Tuesday's flight, carried out in conjunction with the Jewish Agency and the Interior and Immigrant Absorption ministries, contained a cross-section of American Jewish society, from religious to secular, from bearded rabbis to 55 young singles slated to join the IDF in the coming weeks. The olim were greeted at the airport by scores of singing and dancing well-wishers, including delegations of Israeli youth movements, family members of the immigrants and public figures, ranging from Netanyahu, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and MK Uri Orbach to mayors from cities that will be receiving the olim, including Beit Shemesh and Modi'in. Nefesh B'Nefesh co-founder Tony Gelbart noted in the ceremony that Israel "is the only country where the prime minister and heads of the government come to meet new immigrants." North American aliya is expected to rise in 2009 due to the worldwide economic downturn, possibly passing the 4,000 mark. Nefesh B'Nefesh figures reveal that some 450 young olim will be arriving this year to serve in the IDF. Later Tuesday, another 89 Nefesh B'Nefesh olim arrived on a different flight, this time from the UK. According to Nefesh B'Nefesh, over 1,000 people from the UK have immigrated to Israel with its assistance since 2006, and this summer alone 150 people are "coming home" with the organization's help. "We are extremely excited that aliya from the UK is on the rise - we're expecting 150 to 200 olim from the UK this summer," Nefesh B'Nefesh communications director Yael Katsman said. "Each and every oleh that comes to Israel serves as an inspiration to both people living in Israel as well as Jews living in the Diaspora. We are looking forward to helping more Jews from the UK fulfill their dreams of living in Israel." Joshua Miller of London had actually lived in Israel for the past three years while learning in a yeshiva and serving in the IDF. Miller, who entered Gaza with the Golani Brigade in Operation Cast Lead earlier this year, told The Jerusalem Post that his arrival seemed "a bit weird as I have been living here for the last three years, [but] it's still something amazing for me. It's a realization of a dream and it makes everything that I have done even more worth doing." Miller's brother Emmanuel, also a recent immigrant, was at Ben-Gurion Airport to welcome his sibling and told the Post, "As olim, my brother and I will be receiving our university education free of charge from the Israeli government. Which other country provides and pays for its immigrants to go to college?" Another oleh, Julian Maurer from North Hendon, is moving to Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Esther and their children. "The most important thing is that my children move to Eretz Yisrael before high school," he said, adding "It's our homeland, people have fought and died for it, and so we have a responsibility to live here, even if that means leaving our comfort zone in England."