New Jewish immigrants (olim) from South Africa, the United Kingdom, and France received royal treatment on Tuesday fit for the Queen of Sheba – at least worthy of the Queen of Sheba Hall in Jerusalem's Ramada Renaissance Hotel.
The Jewish Agency hosted a welcoming ceremony in honor of the 210 olim on December 29. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky was on hand to congratulate the immigrants, personally handing out a couple of new Israel ID cards.
As the next to the last group of olim expected before the end of 2009 (one more group from North America is landing on Wednesday), the group was given the royal treatment, whisked to a hotel to recuperate after their flight, then given quick and personal assistance in registering for banks, national health insurance, and filling out necessary paperwork.
On Monday, the Jewish Agency publicized some encouraging statistics regarding the state of Jewish immigration to the Holy Land.
In 2009, Aliyah from North America increased by 19 percent from 2008, breaking a 36-year record.
This year, the United Kingdom's Aliyah increased by a substantial 34%, Argentina by 51%, Spain by 52%, and Scandanavia by a whopping 104%.
The year 2009 was such a good one for Aliyah, it was the first time the number of immigrants to Israel has risen this decade, with 16,244 people coming home to Israel, a 17 percent leap over last year's 13,859.
According to the agency, special Aliyah arrangements were also made in 2009 for Jews from "sensitive" regions of the world, with 47 Jews being brought from Yemen, 25 from Morocco, 13 from Tunisia, 3 from Lebanon, and 90 from unspecified additional countries.
At Wednesday's Aliyah flight landing, coordinated between the Jewish Agency and the Nefesh b'Nefesh aliyah organization, Sharansky and Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom will be present to greet immigrants.
The largest number of new immigrants still comes from the former USSR. The number of immigrants from the former USSR increased by 21 percent this year, from 5,867 in 2008 to 7,120 in 2009.