December 31, 2009
By Justin Cohen
More British Jews moved to Israel in 2009 than in any year since 1983, new figures revealed this week.
Statistics released on Monday showed that 835 people of all ages made aliyah from the UK during the past 12 months compared with 625 for the previous year. This 34 percent hike represents the largest percentage increase for any large community.
This year also saw a 17 percent hike in new immigrants from North America to 3,767 and the same increase globally from 15,440 to more than 16,200. It was the first time in a decade that there was a worldwide rise in the number of new immigrants compared with the previous year.
Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz described both the UK and international increases as "very positive", saying: "The fact I have been asked to comment by al-Jazeera shows why aliyah is important. It sends a message that Jews are united behind and the highest self-fulfilment of a Zionist is that he moves to Zion." Expressing optimism about British aliyah in the coming years, he told the Jewish News: "British Jews are not running away from Britain. It is the pull of Israel not the push of what's happening in the UK."
The last time that more people made aliyah from the UK was in 1983 when 1,294 began new lives in the Jewish state, while 1969 saw the largest ever annual influx with 1,763.
And Jankelowitz said the steady increase from the UK over recent years could be attributed to a number of factors including a concerted effort by the Jewish Agency to publicise aliyah and positive stories coming back to the country from recent olim in addition to ideological reasons. He also pointed to the economic climate and the fact that a free Jewish education is available in Israel as playing a role.
Among those included in this week's year-end statistics were 60 olim who touched down on Tuesday on a flight supported by the Jewish Agency. Jamie Lazarus and his wife Tamar, both 28, were on the flight along with their 16-month-old daughter Liat. He said: "Moving to Israel was always something that my wife and I wanted to do, to bring up our family in Israel and live in the Jewish homeland." Jamie, who is set to start a job with Price Waterhouse Cooper while his wife attends an ulpan, said: "It's a little bit surreal but a relief to be here after many years of planning. We are looking forward to beginning our new life in Israel."
The British olim, along with olim who had arrived on separate group flights from France and South Africa, received their Israeli I.D cards within hours of their arrival at an event attended by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.