11 Tevet, 5762
First Group of Argentine Immigrants Since Rioting Arrive
They will benefit from a special aid package.
The Story of The Behind-The-Scenes Efforts that Enabled This Aid Package to Go Through, and Jewish Agency Efforts to promote the New Aliyah From Argentina
Ben-Gurion International Airport (Dec. 25). Haggard, after an 18-hour journey from Buenos Aires to Israel, via Madrid, 63 just-arrived immigrants from Argentina entered the Ministry of Absorption Hall at Ben-Gurion Airport, escorted by members of the Olim association and the Ministry of Absorption.
The immigrants, mostly families, comprised of parents in their thirties or forties (with have children or infants), blinked in the flash of cameras, as a host of journalists converged on them. The Absorption Hall director asked the reporters to wait as he explained the processing procedure: mug shots, the issuing of immigrant certificates and Israeli ID numbers, health insurance, initial financial allocations and arrangement for bank payment, refreshments, a free telephone call to relatives back home, pick-up of luggage, reunion with awaiting relatives and free transportation to their first destination.
Jorge Rusler, an automotive mechanic from Buenos Aires, who arrived with six children, said he hoped to be able to work in his profession. Ruthie Romero, a computer instructor and computer graphic artist, arrived with her two boys, who wore large kippot. Her six-year old Uri who had made the cover of Yedioth Aharonoth, as he boarded the airplane in Argentina, yesterday, felt like a celebrity. Ruthie said that she had been out of work for a year due to the situation. Hernando Meoudi,a bank employee and his wife Sarah Lebovicz, a school principal from Santa Fe told us in fluent Hebrew that they had good jobs but had planned their aliyah for this period.
On hand to greet them was the Chairman of the Jewish Agency Aliyah and Klitah Committee, Arieh Azoulay and Absorption Ministry Director General Ronen Plot. Plot said that though Israel is a small country, it absorbed one million immigrants over the last twelve years. "None are without shelter and without bread to eat," he said. Azoulay, speaking in Spanish, said that "you have come home," and wished them a successful absorption. Also on hand for the Agency was Ra'anana Absorption Center director Ilan Architector, who announced that as of tomorrow, a Jewish Agency ten-line information center will operate at his establishment to dispense information regarding immigrant rights and absorption opportunities which has already received hundreds of immigrants from Argentina. Of the present group, six families (23 individuals) will go the Jewish Agency Absorption Center in Ra'anana, another six families will go to the Yealim absorption center in Beersheba, and four families will go to the KiryatYam absorption center, Haifa. The remainder will live with family or with in special facilities.
This was the first group of immigrants to arrive in Israel since the state of emergency was declared on December 19th in Argentina, in the wake of rioting which claimed the lives of 28 individuals and in which some 4,500 rioters and looters were arrested. Tomorrow, a group of 40 high school students are expected to come to join 100 others who are studying at Israeli boarding schools, and 25 prospective immigrants will arrive on a Jewish-Agency pilot trip to explore absorption possibilities in Israel.
These new immigrants as well as others to arrive from Argentina will now be able to benefit from special Israel Government and Jewish Agency assistance, beyond that afforded other immigrants. This will enable them to better integrate into Israeli society, and make increased aliyah from Argentina a reality.
As soon as rioting broke out on 19 December, Kito Hassson, Head of the Jewish Agency Mission in Argentina cancelled all vacations of his staff and put the Jewish Agency Offices on emergency footing. Offices remained open till , and all 18 emissaries (whether they were educational or youth professionals) and fifty local employees were given crash training in aliyah processing and thrown into action.
Numbers of applicants increased three to four- fold. On December 19th about 100 Jews showed up at the Buenos Aires offices of the Jewish Agency. There was rioting outside and it was unsafe to be on the streets, Kito said. "I immediately ordered them to be brought inside." The following day the rioting had been controlled, though, transportation was restricted due to Government emergency measures. "I instructed our personnel to be prepared to go to the homes of prospective immigrants," Kito said. Some 7,000 prospective immigrants are currently being prepared for aliyah. Their number will likely increase due to the situation in Argentina and the increased opportunities for absorption which the Jewish Agency and the Government are now offering new immigrants from Argentina.
Though the Jewish Agency Board of Governors had decided last June that immigrants from Argentina, France and South Africa should receive special absorption benefits, and Prime Minister Sharon, in a meeting last October of the joint Jewish Agency- Israel Government Ministerial Coordinating Committee, declared that such benefits should be awarded in 2002, no concrete measures had yet been taken. When the current crisis erupted, Jewish Agency Chairman Sallai Meridor convened a meeting of representatives of all Government ministries that deal with immigration and as well as with the heads of Latin American Olim Association, United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod funding arms of the Jewish Agency, and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The taskforce, presided over by Meridor and Cabinet Secretary Gideon Sa'ar, decided that the Agency and Government should take exceptional measures to help absorb immigrants from Argentina. "This is a national effort and all sectors of Israeli society, Olim organizations, the municipalities, regional councils, kibbutzim must mobilize to absorb immigrants from Argentina," Meridor said. Within hours after the conclusion of the meeting the Coordinating Committee approved a new aid package to assist Argentine immigrants. Immigrants from Argentina will be eligible to receive a special package of $20,000 Government assistance for the purchase of housing (one third a grant and two thirds low-interest loan) and $2,500 Jewish Agency absorption grant, above and beyond all assistance the Agency and Government normally accords new immigrants (e.g. mortgages which may amount to $40,000 per family, an absorption allowance of some $16,000 per family, Hebrew language and professional job retraining courses, possibility to reside in Jewish Agency absorption centers, free health insurance for half a year, scholarships and deferments, etc.)
The Jewish community of Argentina, which numbers 200,000 the fourth-largest in the world, was hard-hit in the economic crises which gripped the country during the last decade. The community was comprised of mostly solid middle-clas stock: small businessmen, manufacturers, merchants and professionals In recent years approximately 1,700 Jewish families lost their homes. Some now live crowded into single cheap hotel room in the poverty neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Jewish families have been found living under bridges, in plazas and in public parks. As of today the number of welfare cases dealt with by the Jewish community (food, clothing shelter and job assistance) jumped from 4,000 to 20,000. The community estimates that the number of needy is larger but a potion of the "new poor" are embarrassed to receive aid from the Community charitable organizations and prefer to turn to soup kitchens run by the Church.
The Jewish education system, once the crown jewel of South American JewishZionist education fared badly. Due to inability to pay tuition (tuition cost per child is about $250 and the average monthly salary now is $400), 4,500 Jewish students dropped out of the Jewish educational system, and over 50% of those who remained are receiving Community tuition scholarships, Seven Jewish schools have closed and three Jewish schools merged into a single school. Dozens of teachers who had specialized in Jewish studies or Hebrew became unemployed. .Many family crises also grew out of the tensions engendered by the economic and political crises in Argentina.
While Kito Hasson adamantly stated that there was no anti-Semitic element behind the present outburst of rioting, Argentina did know anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli incidents and had been the site of several tragic terrorist attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets. In 1992 a terrorist bomb blew up the Israeli Embassy. Four years later a terrorists blew up the AMIA Jewish communal offices building. The building was recently rebuilt and the Jewish Agency Offices in Buenos Aires are located there. The recent trial of accomplices of the terrorists, was accompanied by manifestations of anti-Semitism.
While the immigrants from Argentina continued their processing several dozen immigrants from Russia entered the hall reminding us that the Jewish Agency must works simultaneously on many different fronts.
For additional information please contact Yehuda Weinraub, 055-284 805
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