The wall at their back is about 2,000 years old; the documents in their hands are brand new.
Hours after they arrived in Israel as part of 2010’s last group of immigrants, this group of the country’s newest citizens celebrated at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, flashing their Israeli ID cards.
Last year was a good year for aliyah — more than 19,000 Jews from around the world became olim chadashim, or new immigrants. It marked the second consecutive year of an increase in aliyah, after a previous decade of decreases.
“I am very pleased to see the statistics pointing to a rise in aliyah from almost everywhere in the world, particularly in light of the campaign of delegitimizing Israel happening around the world,” Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky told a group of arriving olim.
He cited programs like Birthright Israel, which offer young people free trips to Israel, as a reason for the upswing.
“Many of the new immigrants are young people from free countries who feel they belong to the State of Israel and chose to build their lives and the lives of their children here,” Sharansky said, according to the European Jewish Press.
Figures provided by the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption show the average age of olim last year was 29.75; the oldest newcomer was 99.
Forty percent of the 2010 total came from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Germany; the second-largest group came from North America; other countries of origin included Australia, New Zealand, India, Ethiopia, China, Japan and Malawi.
Despite the improving economy in Russia, a growing number of young Russian Jews, mostly young professionals, are heading to Israel, Sharansky said. “Fifteen years ago, the majority of immigrants from Russia were pensioners.”
Under the Law of Return, Jews are entitled to automatic Israeli citizenship. The government offers newcomers a “basket” of incentives, including direct grants, an exemption from customs taxes, Hebrew-language instruction and housing assistance.
The Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Nefesh b’Nefesh organization recently instituted measures to ease the immigration process. Among them are a streamlined bureaucracy and the issuance of needed documents at Ben-Gurion Airport.