Express Aliyah for New Russian Immigrants
September 23, 2009 / 5 Tishrei 5770
Natan Sharansky speaks very passionately when he speaks of Aliyah, and when he is standing in front of an auditorium of new immigrants from the FSU, his passion is even more apparent. Hardly surprising for a former Russian “Refusenik” who spent nearly 10 years in a Soviet prison because of his fight for human rights and his links to Jewish and Refusenik movements.
Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, addressed a crowd of 1200 new immigrants, guests and VIPs at a special ceremony held in the amphitheatre at the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus Campus to welcome nearly 600 immigrants to Israel.
Sharansky has spoken at a number of welcome ceremonies held for new immigrants in the three months since taking on this position, his first being the fourth Aliyah flight from South Africa, which was held at the Kotel (Western Wall) on July 5.
Sharansky’s enthusiasm is hard to miss when he’s speaking about Russian Aliyah. “I get very excited each time I see immigrants, especially from the FSU (Former Soviet Union),” he said. “I remember how we struggled for the freedom to make Aliyah and now I see each one of you has made the choice as you wished. We, Israel and the Jewish Agency, are happy to be able to assist you with your Aliyah and give you absorption money and help you with your integration into Israel.
“Each one of you closes a circle of more than 2000 years of prayers and dreams and struggles of all Jews in the Diaspora, and now that circle is complete and you have come home – to the only home of the Jewish people,” he said.
When Sharansky speaks about Aliyah, he is not only ‘symbolizing the idea’; he speaks about his and other Jews’ actual experiences of fighting for their rights and the rights of others. “I see you making choices freely and it’s exciting for me to know that we did something right and we helped to open the iron curtain.”
Sharansky, who was arrested on false espionage charges in 1977, was released from prison in 1986 in an exchange for two Soviet spies captured in the West. He came straight to Israel on the “shoulders” of the Jews who supported his fight for human rights and protested for his release.
His achievements in Israel have been many; he has served in the Israeli government in various ministries, including the Housing Ministry, Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and was the chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Affairs in Jerusalem's Shalem Center. He was awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal in 1986 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006.
“You too can achieve success in your new home,” said Sharansky. “Look how many high ranking officials who speak Russian have come to welcome you to Israel. You can see how possible it is for each one of you to become a high ranked figure… well, maybe not every one of you because there are many of you! Then again, with the expansion of the government, maybe it is possible for each one of you…
“Here in Israel, you can do anything! And you can see this by the number of officials that came to welcome you in Russian.”
RUSSIAN IMMIGRANTS MAKE THEIR MARK ON ISRAEL
Sharansky wasn’t the only Russian, who has accomplished great things since making Aliyah, to speak at the recent ceremony for new immigrants. Sofa Landver, minister of Immigrant Absorption (MOIA), has also achieved much success since she made Aliyah 30 years ago.
A Knesset member since 1996, she has held various positions in government, including deputy speaker. She is also a former member of the Ashdod City Council; a director of the Ashdod Development Company and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Agency.
In her speech at the Aliyah ceremony, she spoke about her personal journey over the past 30 years; of her struggle to make her way in Israel and how she thrived through hard work and perseverance. Her passion was also obvious as she spoke to the 1200-strong crowd, telling them that they too could succeed in the same way.
Landver spoke of the new Aliyah program launched by the MOIA on July 16, which encourages FSU immigrants to come to Israel before the end of December, when the program closes. A joint venture between the MOIA and the Jewish Agency, the program provides all immigrants with an extra stipend for rent and other expenses over and above the absorption basket given to other new immigrants.
So far, the program has been a huge success, made apparent by the large numbers of FSU immigrants that have walked through the gates at Ben Gurion airport recently.
“We are happy to launch this program together with the Jewish Agency,” said Landver. “The budget set aside for the six-month program is NIS32 million, and is shared between the Ministry of Absorption and the Jewish Agency. It will be enough to bring nearly 1200 families and singles to Israel between now and December 2009, and we welcome every one with open arms.
“The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption does everything it can to make this process more comfortable and easy for you, and we wish you all the best for the future. This is your home now,” she said.
The list of dignitaries at the Mount Scopus event was long and included Lea Shemtov, head of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs; Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, minister of Information and Diaspora; Moshe Vigdor, director-general of the Jewish Agency; and Paula Edelstein, co-chair of the Aliyah and Klita Committee; Eli Cohen, director-general of the Aliyah and Klita department; and many others.
The success of the new program will be determined only at the end of December, but so far, the numbers of FSU immigrants have shown that the program is well on it’s way to achieving it’s goals.