Oleh from France
Oleh from FranceNoga Malsa

A group of 160 new French immigrants to Israel arrived at Ben Gurion Airport today aboard a special Aliyah (immigration to Israel) flight from Paris organized by The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration.

The olim (immigrants) were accompanied on the flight by Israeli Minister of Aliyah and Integration Pnina Tamano-Shata, who was returning from a tour of the Jewish community in France in light of growing interest in Aliyah in that country. According to the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration and The Jewish Agency, Israel has seen a 137-percent jump in the number of new immigrants from France so far during 2021 compared to the same period last year.

Upon landing on Wednesday, the new olim were greeted by Chairman of the World Zionist Organization and the Acting Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency Yaakov Hagoel, World Chairman of Keren Hayesod Sam Grundwerg, Director General and CEO of The Jewish Agency Amira Ahronoviz, and Director General of the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration Habib Katsav.

Immigration to Israel has never halted during the coronavirus pandemic despite ongoing challenges such as restrictions on incoming international flights to Israel. The Ministry of Aliyah and Integration and The Jewish Agency estimate that thousands of new olim are expected to immigrate to Israel during the summer months from around the world, with the goal of building their home and future in the Jewish state. Accordingly, The Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration celebrated today’s flight as a highlight of what they are describing as a broader “Season of Aliyah to Israel.”

“When this flight landed, it was the completion of my first official visit to France and meeting the French Jewish community. However, the initiative to bring olim from France to Israel is not yet complete. As Minister of Aliyah and Integration, I’m responsible for encouraging Aliyah from around the world and helping them acclimate into Israeli society,” said MK Tamano-Shata. “Over the last four days, we had in-depth meetings with leaders of the French Jewish community, government agencies and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In France, I witnessed the deep connection and love that this special community has for Israel. I learned about the challenges they currently face, and I will ensure that my office sees that they have a smooth transition to their new life in Israel.”

Among the 160 immigrants who landed today from France were doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, and marketing and media professionals, as well as 46 young people under the age of 18 who will enter the Israeli education system. After landing at Ben Gurion Airport, the newcomers began to observe mandatory home isolation in accordance with coronavirus safety guidelines.

“Aliyah to Israel is the bedrock of Zionism. Ever since the days of Abraham and our forefathers, we’ve contended with disasters, wars, challenges and, most recently, a global pandemic. Yet, the Jewish people have continued to arrive in Israel and be greeted with open arms. This is our true home," said Hagoel. "160 olim arrived today to strengthen us as a people and, by doing so, they are fulfilling the dreams of being connected to the land of Israel. Welcome home."

The flight was organized with support from The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), Keren Hayesod, Christians for Israel of the Netherlands and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

With approximately half a million people, the Jewish community in France is the largest in the world outside of Israel and the United States. About 1,370 French immigrants made Aliyah during the first half of this year, compared to 578 during the corresponding period last year, according to the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration and The Jewish Agency. Further, the pandemic year of 2020 saw a dramatic increase in the opening of new Aliyah files from France — 6,053 compared to 2,475 in 2019.

The Jewish Agency’s Aliyah Global Call Center, which operates with the support of the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, received more than 14,000 calls in 2020 from people interested in immigrating to Israel from France. Data from the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration and The Jewish Agency shows that in the last decade, a record number of 39,592 people made Aliyah from France, out of a total of 125,000 French immigrants to Israel since the establishment of the country. Twenty percent of the French olim were under the age of 18; 31 percent were ages 18-35; 12 percent were 36-50; 15 percent were 51-65; and the rest were older than 65.

The group of French olim from the past decade has included 404 doctors — among them 22 surgeons, 10 anesthesiologists, 24 gynecologists, sports doctors, nutritional rehabilitation doctors, neurologists, and more — in addition to 74 optometrists, 238 opticians, 77 journalists, 317 lawyers, 102 legal professionals, 281 accountants, and 12 film producers. French olim have also included some less common professionals, such as a dog groomer, a shipbuilder, a pilot and a maritime officer. About 11,000 of the immigrants live in Netanya, 6,700 live in Jerusalem, and 6,500 live in Tel Aviv, with significant numbers also residing in Ashdod, Ra’anana, Hadera, Herzliya, Ashkelon, and Eilat.