September 24, 2009 / 6 Tishrei 5770
Nine flights arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on the Sunday before Rosh Hashana, bringing more than 230 new immigrants from 15 different states in the Former Soviet Union (FSU) to Israel in one day. In addition, about 450 FSU immigrants arrived in the weeks prior – a total of 600 in less than a month.
The recent influx of FSU immigrants is the result of a new program launched on July 16 by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption (MOIA) and the Jewish Agency to persuade FSU Jews to make aliyah now before it’s too late.
We felt we had a small window of opportunity to encourage them to make aliyah,” says Noga Maliniak, head of the Aliyah Division of the Jewish Agency. “Jews in the FSU have assimilated to such an extent that if we wait any longer to bring them to Israel, we’ll lose them completely.
“In January last year, the government held a discussion to decide how to approach this situation. They believed it was essential to find Jews, or children and grandchildren of Jews, still living in the FSU and bring them ‘home’,” she says.
“Many of these Jews are aware of their heritage, but are not practising Jews, nor do they know anything about Judaism. We wanted to give them the opportunity to live among Jews and come to a place that will welcome them with open arms,” says Maliniak. And so the program was born.
“The FSU incentive program
New immigrants waiting to
board the plane to Israel
Extra funds have been set aside for FSU immigrants by MOIA and the Jewish Agency over and above the usual sal klita (absorption basket) benefits for new immigrants. This six-month program runs until the end of December, and the Jewish Agency aims to bring in more than 1000 families and 100 single people to Israel by this time.
Families will receive a once-off grant of 3,400 NIS and a subsidy of 24,000 NIS (2,000 NIS per month) towards rent for one year, while singles will receive a grant of 1,800 NIS and a rental subsidy of 12,000 NIS (1,000 NIS per month).
Part of this program includes spreading the immigrants over 22 specific municipalities around Israel, including Ramle, Haifa, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Akko, Katzrin and Rishon Lizion, among others, in order to help develop the communities that have started new Absorption programs.
According to Paula Edelstein, co-chair of the Jewish Agency’s Aliyah & Klita Committee, with the economic situation in the FSU the way it has been and is at present, it was important to offer a little extra help to potential immigrants.
“Many of these people have wanted to make aliyah for many years, but haven’t been able to do so. They probably would’ve done it eventually anyway, but we wanted them to make the move sooner rather than later because of the problem of assimilation,” she says.
“The number of families in the FSU with two Jewish parents is very small. About 70% of them are in mixed marriages and only about 30% is Jewish.
“Israel’s Law of Return affects those Jews that have one Jewish parent or grandparent, but with intermarriage rife in the FSU, very soon this won’t apply. Once the children of the current generation marry out, they won’t be able to bring their children to Israel under the law.”
Aliyah on a Red Carpet
Many of these immigrants have chosen to make aliyah at this time because of the extra support, but this is not the only reason. The Jewish Agency is laying out the red carpet for them by providing services that enable them to have a “soft landing” in their new home.
As with the aliyah flights from South Africa and the UK, among others, the Jewish Agency has made life easier for the immigrants. Meeting them at Ben Gurion Airport, organizing their Teudat Olah (new immigrant cards), driving them to the Shalom Hotel in Jerusalem for the night, and arranging a mini-expo for them in order to avoid the usual bureaucratic red tape is all part of this process.
At the mini-expo, the immigrants are able to sign up with the bank, Kupat Cholim (health insurance), a cell phone company of their choice, and meet with people from the Jewish Agency, Aliyah Job Center and more.
Known as “Aliyah on a red carpet”, this “complete” service was launched in July 2007 with Aliyah Aleph, the first Aliyah flight, which came from South Africa.
Since then, more than 12 Aliyah flights have brought in over 2000 new immigrants who have benefited from the red carpet treatment.
The culmination of the “Red Carpet” idea is a special ceremony where the immigrants are handed their Teudot Zehut (ID cards), making their citizenship of Israel official. Usually, it takes about two months to receive a Teudat Zehut if one applies for it oneself.
The ceremony took place in the amphitheatre of the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus Campus in Jerusalem overlooking the city. Guest speakers included Sofa Landver, Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Yuli Yoel Edelstein, Minister of Information and Diaspora and Leah Shem Tov, head of Aliyah, Klita and the Diaspora in the Knesset – all of whom immigrated to Israel from the FSU over the past 30 years.
The amphitheatre of the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus Campus