More than 600 French Jews arrived together in Israel Wednesday, thankful that the looming airport strike did not postpone their Aliyah (immigration to Israel).

The two chartered flights, one from Marseilles and one from Paris, touched down at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport Wednesday morning.

French immigrants landing at Ben Gurion airport
Photo: Kobi Selah

The flights were organized by AMI (Aliyah et Meilleure Integration) and the Jewish Agency and marked the largest arrival of French Jews immigrating to the Jewish State in decades. AMI is a French Aliyah assistance organization modeled after Nefesh B’Nefesh, which is active in English-speaking countries.

The new immigrants were welcomed by crowds of French Jews already living in Israel, as well as by Aliyah activists and enthusiasts from around the country. President Shimon Peres, Absorption Minister Yaakov Edri and Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski also greeted the new arrivals.

Though one full day after Tisha B'Av, French immigrant children prefer to sit on the floor Wednesday morning in the reception area of Ben Gurion Airport
Photo: Kobi Selah

The new immigrants left the airport in groups, heading for Ashdod, Ashkelon, the Binyamin Region of the Shomron, Jerusalem and Netanya – all locales with large and growing communities of French olim (immigrants). Around 4,000 French Jews have moved to Israel in the past year and a half.

The mass Aliyah contributed to a decision by Histadrut Labor Union Chief Ofer Eini to exempt the airports from the nationwide general strike for 24 hours. Jewish Agency Chairman Bielski wrote to Eini on Tuesday saying, “We are speaking of families from all over France who have sold their homes and detached themselves from their homeland. These families are already on their way to Israel to begin a new life here with us. Since the founding of the state Aliyah was never stopped - not even for one day  - for any reason, even war.”

The expected extension of the nationwide strike to Ben Gurion airport Thursday does, however, threaten two Nefesh B'Nefesh Aliyah flights scheduled to leave Monday and Tuesday from the United States and Great Britain.

More pictures can be viewed here.