A group of Jewish immigrants from France arrived in Israel on Tuesday evening and were greeted by the Jewish Agency and Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption who hosted a Chanukah celebration in their honor.
“We wanted to make sure that we welcomed the new olim in the most festive and appropriate way possible,” said Jewish Agency Spokesman Avi Mayer to Tazpit Press Service (TPS).
“What could be more appropriate than inviting them to light Chanukah candles with a Jewish hero like Natan Sharansky?”
Sharansky, who has served as chairman of the Jewish Agency since 2009, was a former refusenik in the Soviet Union who fought valiantly for the rights of Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel.
“Approximately 50 new French immigrants arrived in Israel today,” Mayer explained. “They range in age from small children to senior citizens and they were welcomed with a festive event at Ben Gurion Airport where they lit Chanukah candles in Israel for the very first time.”
Although the ceremony today stood out from the more routine welcomes for new immigrants at Ben Gurion Airport, Mayer told TPS that French immigration to Israel is not unusual.
“Immigrants come from France every single day,” explained Mayer. “That is not unique to today. In fact it would be rare for a day to go by without immigration from France.”
Although French aliyah is nothing new, there has been a significantly continuous increase in the number of Jews arriving in Israel from France over the last few years. “Israel is in the midst of a massive wave of French Jewish immigration,” noted Mayer. “This has been ongoing for several years now to the point where 2014 broke all records for aliyah from France as well as for aliyah from any western country.”
“It was the first time ever that more than one full percent of a country’s Jewish population made aliyah in a given year, and we expect that growth to be continuing for the foreseeable future,” continued Mayer.
Among many factors pulling French Jews to Israel are existing connections to Israel. “Israel is not a foreign country to many French Jews,” Mayer said to TPS. “So many French Jews have family connections here and they come rather frequently to visit and in particular during holidays.”
Meanwhile, the overall trend of French aliyah only shows signs of continued growth. “We are at the point where approximately 7000 immigrants from France have already arrived in Israel this year which marks a 10% increase over last year,” said Mayer. “The Olim (immigrants) who arrived today will only contribute to that growth.”