Aliyah is already expected to reach record highs in Israel next year, with an estimated 30,000 new immigrants set to arrive to the country. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein who helped break the Jewish Agencies’ monopoly on Aliyah, and was one of the original funders of Nefesh B’Nefesh, is now taking his knowledge and the backing of his organization to focus on doubling if not tripling the rate of Aliyah from a host of countries.
Eckstein, who is the director of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) hopes to bring between 4,000-6,000 Jews from Moldova, France, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela and the Ukraine to Israel next year.
“4,000 is a very conservative number I think,” said Eckstein, “it will more likely be closer to six.”
The IFCJ started a new program in November of 2014, to bring Jews from countries other than North America on Aliyah to Israel. The program met with such resounding success that within the first year they succeeded at bringing 2,000 Jews on Aliyah, which is nearly ten percent of all the immigrants to Israel in the past year.
“We just started this program in November last year. We brought 1,600 from the Ukraine and the others are from a host of different countries, and we getting more requests,” said the former head of Aliyah Operations for the Jewish Agency.
The IFCJ currently handles all of the immigrants that come from the Ukraine, and the organization is receiving requests to build their networks in other countries as well
“It’s incredible the response we have been getting from other countries,” he said. “We hope that our portion of the yearly immigration total rises exponentially.”
While the figures still pale in comparison to those of the Jewish Agency, Eckstein hopes to attract more potential olim by upping the benefits they receive. “When immigrants come through the IFCJ, they receive up to $1,000, and we are there with them every step of the way for the first six months to a year to make sure that they have an easy absorption process.”
“The historic focus on aliyah as Israel’s national program to rescue the world’s Jews and build the Jewish state has dimmed, but we are ramping up a new, independent aliyah movement to help Jews from around the Diaspora who are still threatened by anti-Semitism and economic hardship,” he said.
“In a short time, with the help of so many incredible Christian friends of Israel, we’ve already brought thousands of Jews home, and in the coming year we are rededicating ourselves to rebuilding aliyah – and the Jewish homeland.”
Eckstein outlined some of the lengths to which the organization goes to make sure that the daunting absorption process is handled with care and goes as smoothly as possible for the new immigrants.
For a start, the IFCJ not only finds an apartment for the immigrant and their family before they depart for Israel, they also provide the first few months of rent for the apartment while the immigrant gets settled. For some immigrants the IFCJ pays for daycare for their children so that the parents can go to ulpan in order to learn the language and more readily get jobs. The IFCJ also provides a trauma counselling service for new immigrants for the first six months so that they have someone to talk to if they need help dealing with some of the stresses of their new home.
“We have recently hired 35 new staff members whose job it is to accompany these new olim for 6 months on their journey towards making a new home in Israel,” said Eckstein.
Eckstein claims the Jewish Agency has been fighting this initiative as they would prefer to maintain control of the Immigration and absorption process, but he believes that olim will vote with their feet.
“We just had 30,000 immigrants come this past year through the the old system. Once the absorption process is easier and more welcoming, we hope that more people will come. Aliyah needed a refreshing and new approach,” he said.
The Jewish Agency, however, sees things very differently. A spokesman told Arutz Sheva that the Agency "is proud to be the organization tasked by the Government of Israel and the Jewish people with overseeing and implementing Aliyah. We have thus far brought more than 3.5 million immigrants to Israel, and we continue to bring increasing numbers of Jews home every day.
"2015 will see the arrival of more than 30,000 new immigrants at Ben Gurion Airport – a striking fifteen-year high, and the clearest confirmation of The Jewish Agency’s success in promoting and facilitating Aliyah."
"The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews’ Aliyah operation is little more than elaborate, donor-funded smoke and mirrors," he continued. "The overwhelming majority of individuals for whose Aliyah the IFCJ takes credit went through the entire Aliyah process with The Jewish Agency—which processed their immigration applications, determined their eligibility, and provided them with all the information and preparation they need to successfully integrate into their new homeland—before being offered financial inducements to board IFCJ-branded planes at the last moment.
"In many cases, these immigrants’ journeys home began long before they submitted their Aliyah requests: at Jewish Agency schools and summer camps, in interactions with Jewish Agency shlichim, or on Jewish Agency Israel experience programs. The notion that the IFCJ “brought” these immigrants to Israel is laughable," he fired.
The spokesman also criticized "their practice of waving wads of cash at immigrants in order to entice them to cancel their Jewish Agency-purchased Aliyah tickets and board IFCJ planes instead, saying it posed two major problems.
"Firstly, because in so doing, these immigrants are expected to forgo Jewish Agency services and absorption programs that are the building blocks of successful integration into Israeli society, and secondly, because the IFCJ is consciously creating two classes of immigrants – those fortunate enough to receive cash in order to board IFCJ planes and participate in IFCJ publicity stunts, and the vast majority who are not. The notion that immigrants should be subjected to discrimination because they have no PR value is ugly, and we will have no part of it.
"30,000 new immigrants can’t be wrong: The Jewish Agency continues to be the address for Aliyah, and our professionals in Israel and around the world will continue to ensure that any Jew who wishes to make Israel his or her home is able to do so as swiftly and efficiently as possible."