September 29, 2009 / 11 Tishrei 5770
“Aliyah on a Red Carpet” has become the Jewish Agency’s motto since the launch of the first Aliyah flight from South Africa in July 2008. The success of the “Red Carpet” package has now warranted more than 17 special flights this year alone.
“Israel’s goal is to bring all Jews back home, and the Jewish Agency’s mandate is to enable them to do it with ease, ensuring that the Aliyah process is a smooth, enjoyable one for all new immigrants,” says Ofer Dahan, marketing director of the Jewish Agency’s Aliyah & Klita department.
Dahan conceptualised the “Red Carpet” idea while in his position as director of the Israel Centre in South Africa. He spent three years in the country before returning to Israel in July 2009 on Aliyah Dalet, the latest Aliyah flight from SA.
The Aliyah flights were a small part of Dahan’s innovative idea. The Aliyah “Red Carpet” package includes an Aliyah Expo in the country of origin, the Aliyah flight, a welcome ceremony in Jerusalem at which the new immigrants receive their Te’udat Zehut (Israeli ID cards), and a mini-expo at the hotel where new immigrants can sign up for a variety of services, including banks, cell phone companies, medical insurance, and more. The final step “up” the Red Carpet is a bus ride to the new homes of the new immigrants.
The services offered by the Jewish Agency at these events save new immigrants weeks and even months of going through red tape and administration nightmares.
Dahan’s reasoning wasn’t to stroke the ego of the Jewish Agency. “Moving to a new country, to the unknown, uplifting yourself and your family from the life you know is an incredibly hard thing to do, no matter who you are or at what stage of life you may be,” he says.
“Having lived outside of Israel a number of times, I know what it’s like to be in unfamiliar territory and so I wanted to find a way to make the Aliyah process less stressful and more pleasant.”
The first Aliyah Expo was launched in South Africa in November 2007. “We brought in experts to South Africa from every field to talk to potential new immigrants about life in Israel,” says Dahan. “There were lawyers and accountants and real estate agents and Jewish Agency representatives. We brought representatives from the different banks, medical insurance companies and cell phone companies, from the various absorption programs, and we even had removal companies set up stands.
“We had about 100 people walk through the doors over the two days and about 80 of them ended up on the first flight in July. When they found out what was planned on the other side once we arrived in Israel, they all wanted to be a part of it. Previously, new immigrants would take a flight to Israel and once there, would have to find their own way around the bureaucracy of country,” he says.
Since the first Aliyah flight, the Red Carpet idea has been fine-tuned and expanded. There have been four flights from South Africa with a fifth planned for October 13th, and other countries, including France (two), Britain and South America, have joined the bandwagon, bringing the total number of Aliyah flights since inception to 21 with more than 1300 new immigrants overall. This year alone, there have been about 15, including the flights that arrived from Former Soviet Union (FSU) states on Sunday 13 September.
RETURN TO ZION
The “Red Carpet” events have been extremely successful, and the most recent from the FSU was also the biggest. Nine flights arrived on one day from 13 FSU states with about 40 to 50 new immigrants per state, totalling nearly 240. About another 400 or so arrived in the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish Agency held a special event at Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus Campus to celebrate their arrival.
Eli Cohen, director-general of the Department of Immigration and Absorption in the Jewish Agency, was like the cat that got the cheese at the end of the ceremony celebrating the first “Aliyah on a Red Carpet” event for new immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (FSU).
“Over the past 10 years, the number of new immigrants making Aliyah decreased in general, but especially from the Former Soviet Union,” says Cohen. “During this past year, however, we have seen an increase in the number of new immigrants coming into Israel and we are very excited.
“With the Jewish Agency’s Aliyah and klita (absorption) services, from the moment a person starts the process of his Aliyah until he completes his first year, we help him and his family… And the most remarkable part is how quickly everything happens – you see people arriving on one day and on the next, they’re receiving their Israeli ID cards at a ceremony organized by us!
“Imagine how long it takes to be a citizen of the United States or the United Kingdom,” he says. “But the Jews, because of the Law of Return, and because of our goal to have our people back in the State of Israel, have a process that is instant.”
Cohen says the Jewish Agency has developed a wonderful relationship with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, NATIV and the Ministry of the Interior, all of whom are working together with the same target, enabling the organisation to achieve its common goals. The plan is to increase the number of new immigrants by about 15% to 20% from all over the world.
“We have a saying in Israel: ‘We love Aliyah, we don’t love the new immigrants’, but here at this ceremony, we have demonstrated that we do love the new immigrants and we give special treatment to them,” he said after the celebrations ended. “I think that those who want to be sure of their continuity as Jews, those that are at the moment of making a new decision in their lives and want to build a new home, Israel is an option, it’s a Jewish future, it’s an option to succeed in the same way as the three million who arrived in Israel in the past 61 years have done.
“Israel has demonstrated that it is a new hope for those who want to be part of the Jewish nation. I hope and wish that it doesn’t take another 2,000 years for the rest of the Jews to decide to come home to Israel.”
What about now, after all the hype and excitement, after 24 hours of being the focus of the Jewish Agency’s attention? Cohen understands the fact that there might be a bit of a let down, but the Jewish Agency’s plan is to make sure that no-one feels like they’re being left alone.
“I know it’s not easy for an immigrant moving to a new country,” he says. “I was twice a shaliach with my family – only a shaliach – and we went to Latin America. It’s difficult without family, with a new job, a new society, a new language, so it’s not going to be easy for them, but we have the obligation and the commitment to give them the best service that we can, that the new landing and their absorption will be a soft landing, and that’s what we are trying to do.
“Obviously, they should do whatever they think to do for themselves, but we try to give them the tools to do this and to offer them a new life, and I hope that we will succeed. We are doing it with open hearts and our arms are open to receive them like our family. It’s not going to be easy for them; they should learn the language, learn a profession if necessary, and they should adapt themselves to the society as much as possible. As I told you before, three million have done it and they can do it too.”
To find out more about the Aliyah on a Red Carpet, contact your local shaliach or the Aliyah Service Center.