By Stuart Winer, Times of Israel—
Some 30,000 new immigrants arrived in Israel during 2015, the highest number to be absorbed by the country in over a decade, according to new figures released jointly by the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Minister Ze’ev Elkin on Tuesday urged even greater efforts to bring Diaspora Jews to Israel, setting a future goal of 50,000 per year.
Immigration to Israel (known by Jews as aliyah, the Hebrew for “rising up”) was up 10 percent compared to 2014, reaching a high not seen since 2003. Israeli officials now expect the numbers in 2016 to be higher.
“We are in a rare window of opportunity. While we are busy with the day-to-day problems of Israel, we did not pay attention to this year’s great development: the number of immigrants exceeded 30,000 for the first time in more than a decade,” Elkin said in a statement.
“It is our duty to do everything necessary to take advantage of this rare opportunity and invest efforts in both immigrant absorption and aliyah encouragement, so that a figure of 50,000 immigrants in one year does not seem imaginary.”
“If we will it, it is no dream,” he added quoting the famous adage of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism.
Of the new immigrants, 50 percent were under the age of 30 and 8,200 were under the age of 19 — up 20% on the year before. The youngest, an arrival from the US in September, was just a month and a half old; the eldest, who landed in Israel in June, was 97.
For the second year running, French immigrants made up the largest group from any one country. The year saw an all-time record for arrivals from France — 7,900 landed in Israel during the year, compared to 7,200 in 2014.
“The Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption are joining forces in order to further intensify efforts in France in light of rising interest in aliyah due to the economic, social, and security situation in that country,” the two bodies said in a joint statement.
A further 7,000 people arrived from Ukraine, a 16% increase on the year before of 6,000 immigrants. Overall, there was a 25% increase in immigration from Eastern Europe, including countries of the former Soviet Union. Some 15,000 Jews arrived from those countries, up from 12,300 in 2014.
The sharpest increase in immigration came from Russia, where 6,600 new arrivals moved to Israel — a 40% jump from 4,900 in 2014 and up 60% from 2013.
By contrast, there was a slight drop in immigration from the US and Canada, with a combined 3,770 arriving from North America in 2015, compared to 3,870 in 2014. However, Western Europe saw 9,330 people immigrate, a 6% increase on the 8,000 people in 2014.
“The high number of immigrants, particularly from Western countries, attests to the drawing power of the Zionist idea,” said Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky. “The fact that immigrants choose to come to Israel is a sign that Israel invests their lives with meaning that they cannot find elsewhere.”
Jewish Agency spokesman Avi Mayer told The Times of Israel that the rise in numbers is expected to continue in 2016, in particular from France, where there has been steady increase for several years.
The more stable figures from North America were likely due to factors that motivate immigration, Mayer explained.
“It is due to push and pull factors,” Mayer said of the motivation for people to move to Israel.
Push factors, such as dangers or economical difficulties, are a motivating force in France and Eastern Europe, as well as the pull of Jewish cultural ties to Israel; North American immigration, however, is driven almost exclusively by the attraction of living in the Jewish state.
“The pull factors are very strong in North America; the push factors like those in France, don’t exist,” Mayer said.
Tel Aviv absorbed the highest number of immigrants, with 3,650 making their homes in the coastal city. Further north along the coast, Netanya took in the second highest number of immigrants, some 3,500. Another 3,030 moved to Jerusalem and 2,250 went to Haifa.