Former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky made his official debut as head of the Jewish Agency this week by welcoming 75 new immigrants from Ethiopia at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem.
Sharansky and new Israeli The new Israelis, who were presented by Sharansky with identity cards, are staying in absorption centers in Be’er Sheva and Tzfat to learn Hebrew, Jewish tradition and Israeli culture to help them make new lives in the country. Several of them will be reunited with family members who moved to the Jewish state years ago.
Sharansky, who founded the Yisrael B’Aliyah party and who was a minister in three governments, was sworn in last month as head of the Jewish Agency after a dispute between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who nominated him, and directors of the quasi-governmental organization.
Diaspora Jews, most of them from the United States, accepted a compromise plan whereby Sharansky will not serve as chairman of the World Zionist Organization, a position traditionally held by the head of the Jewish Agency.
Picture: Sasson Tiram/Jewish Agency
After taking up his new post, Sharansky said he will concentrate on Jewish education in the Diaspora, where the level of Jewish identity has been decreasing, because “when more than 90 percent of the world's Jews live either in Israel, America, France…, you cannot encourage people to make aliyah if they don't have a strong [Jewish] identity.”
The Jewish Agency estimates that aliyah from North American will increase by 15 percent this year, following a new trend in the past years of a renewal of interest among North Americans in moving to Israel. The Agency hosted farewell receptions in New York Washington, Boston, and San Francisco last month for members of the communities who will be immigrating to Israel this summer, and similar events will be held this month in Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto.
“These are people who always had the dream of making aliyah, and if they have to start now from the beginning, they want build their lives in Israel,” said Liran Avisar, head of the Jewish Agency Aliyah delegation to North America.