Immigrants from North America and France will be the largest group of immigrants to Israel this year. The slowly rising immigration from North America and France is important news for Israel and Zionism. Immigration from North America is especially important. North America has the largest remaining Jewish community in the Diaspora. France too has a large Jewish community. The challenge is to make Israel into the kind of society that will attract and hold immigrants from the most affluent societies in the world, who choose to live here. Most of whom will expect a comparable quality of life, and who, with the best of intentions and ideological motivation, will probably not chose to live in this country for long if we cannot provide reasonable security and a standard of living comparable to Western Europe and the United States.
An estimated 24,000 people are expected to make aliya, the Hebrew word for immigrating to Israel, this year, its highest figure since 2003 and up from 22,657 in 2005, the Jewish Agency said.
"This is actually proof that people realize that the center of Jewish life is in Israel," agency chairman Zeev Bielski told Reuters. "To be part of the creation of the Jewish state is something you can do only by living in Israel."
Nearly 250 North Americans landed in Israel on Thursday on the first of seven planeloads that will bring an expected 3,400 new immigrants from the United States and Canada, the most since 1983 and well above last year's 2,987.
Immigration from France is also expected to reach 3,500 people in 2006, the highest level since 1971, the agency said.
Immigration earlier in the decade had dropped sharply from about 70,000 per year in the 1990s, mostly from former Soviet states, due to Palestinian-Israeli violence. It posted its first yearly gain in 2005 since 1999.
"You are showing Israel's enemies ... no one will stop Jews from calling Israel their home," Tony Gelbart, a co-founder of the Nefesh B'Nefesh private immigration agency, told the immigrants at Ben Gurion International Airport.
President Moshe Katsav said rising immigration was a signal to Israel's Arab neighbors that making peace was a far better option than trying to destroy Israel.
Among those who immigrated to Israel on Thursday was Ben Kurtzer, brother of former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer, with his wife and five children from Dallas.
"Whenever we came to Israel in the past, we always felt that this is home and that we were temporarily living in the United States," said Kurtzer.
Judy Balint wrote:
The 16th chartered aliya flight that arrived today was sponsored by Nefesh B'Nefesh and the Jewish Agency. It's the first of six flights that will arrive from North America this summer bringing some 3500 new immigrants to Israel.
Despite the gloomy front page news about Israeli troops re-entering Gaza to stop the barrage of Kassam rockets raining down on southern Israeli towns, the new immigrants stepping off the plane are optimistic and passionate about their new home. Marti Leebhoff from California is anxious to get to the new home in Mitzpe Netufa near Tiberias that she'll share with her husband, four kids and mother-in-law. "We know it will be a better place to raise our kids," she says firmly.
Some new immigrants, like the Kuras' are reuniting with family (a daughter, son and many grandchildren). Others left close family behind.
Several of those arriving make the traditional gesture of kissing the ground in an emotional homecoming.
All the olim are welcomed by a crowd of several hundred flag-waving, cheering family and friends--most of whom are recent immigrants themselves.
For many, it was a chance to relive their own aliya experience. "We didn't get this kind of hoopla when we arrived," says Shalom Abramowitz who arrived in 1994, "but it's just great to see people coming in greater numbers today," he adds, as his eyes scan the disembarking passengers for his cousin from Long Island.
The plane pulls up directly to the hangar with the normally tedious passport control and other immigration processing having taken place with Interior Ministry officials during the flight.
As the new olim take their seats in the hangar, they're almost indistinguishable from the hundreds of more veteran immigrants who have come to greet them. Slightly younger, perhaps, but the same kind of people.
Around half of the olim are children, small children. There are few families with teenage kids in the group--a testament to the notoriously difficult absorption of teenagers into Israeli high school society.
On hand to greet the new olim are President Moshe Katzav and his wife and Absorption Minister Zev Boim. "Look at me, I was a new immigrant not so long ago, and now I'm President of the State of Israel," quips Mr. Katzav.
President Katzav gives a warm personal welcome to new olim, Ben and Melissa Kurtzer and their five children who will be moving to Maale Adumim, just east of Jerusalem. Kurtzer is the brother of former US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer.
The singing of Hatikva closes the ceremony. Flags wave and tears flow, cameras roll and the olim take a deep breath before dispersing to their new homes to start new lives as Israeli citizens.
You can see a video of the new immigrants at http://flickr.com/photos/jerusalemdiaries/
Something to cheer about despite the bad news and tension around Gaza.
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