Aliyah flight
Aliyah flight Flash90

Immigration to Israel was up 55% this past year, Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky said Sunday. The increase was due largely to increases in immigration from France and Ukraine.

Sharansky was speaking Sunday at the opening plenary of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors' June meetings in Jerusalem. According to the Jewish Agency, aliyah from France is expected to surpass 5,000 by the end of 2014 – meaning that 1% of the country's 500,000-strong Jewish community will have moved to Israel. If the forecast pans out, it would the biggest-ever proportion of a Western Jewish community made to make aliyah in a single year.

Meanwhile, immigration to Israel from Ukraine nearly tripled this year – up 132% over 2013 figures, the Jewish Agency said.

Among those coming to Israel from France are many young people, and Sharansky said that much of the credit for this phenomenon could be attributed to The Jewish Agency's Israel experience programs—including Masa Israel Journey and teen program Bac Bleu Blanc—which have seen record growth amongst young French Jews over the past two years. With that, noted Sharansky, it is The Jewish Agency's responsibility not only to facilitate French Jewish Aliyah, but also to strengthen Jewish life in France.

"Never in the history of the State of Israel has there been a Jewish community in the free world that has sent such a large proportion of its Jews to Israel,”said Sharansky. “We cannot take responsibility for the fact that so many Jews and so many French young people in general are leaving France, but the fact that Israel has become the number one destination for young French Jews is a testament to our success in connecting them to the Jewish state."

According to Jewish Agency data, a total of 7,912 individuals have made aliyah since the beginning of the year (June through May), compared to 5,092 during the comparable period in 2013 – a 55% increase. This number does not include Aliyah from Ethiopia, the pace of which is determined by the Government of Israel. 713 Ethiopian Jews made Aliyah during this period in 2013, a number that dropped to 143 this year due to the conclusion of Operation Dove's Wings.

Of the total, 2,254 French Jews made aliyah during the first five months of 2014, compared to 580 during the equivalent period last year – a 289% increase. The first five months of the year also saw a dramatic increase in Aliyah from Ukraine, with 1,587 Ukrainian Jews immigrating to Israel, compared to 684 during the same period In 2013 – a 132% increase.

Hundreds of leaders from Jewish organizations and communities around the world are in Israel this week to participate in The Jewish Agency's Board of Governors meetings in Jerusalem, which began Sunday and run through Tuesday.Speakers at the gathering include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein, Minister of Education Rabbi Shai Piron, Minister of Environmental Protection Amir Peretz, and Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky.

Discussions during the three-day event will focus on initiatives spearheaded by The Jewish Agency in partnership with the Government of Israel and world Jewry to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people and strengthen young Jews' connections to Jewish life and to the State of Israel. Board members will be presented with reports on the dramatic increases in Aliyah (immigration to Israel) from France and Ukraine and the expansion of Jewish Agency activities in those countries and elsewhere around the world. The participants will also discuss the fight against rising anti-Semitism and efforts to combat the delegitimization of Israel. Additionally, members of the Board of Governors will go to the Knesset to meet with Members of Knesset from across the political spectrum and discuss issues affecting the Jewish world and Israel-Diaspora relations.