The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews announced this week that it has assisted the immigration of 5,600 olim (new citizens) from 27 countries to Israel in 2017, a 25 percent increase from 2016. The Fellowship claimed that the immigration they facilitated were one-third Israel’s olim from non-English-speaking countries.
Aliyah has been somewhat stagnant in recent years. In 2011, there were 16,893 olim (only 693 more than the Israelis who left the country for a year or more), according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. According to Haaretz, there was a drop of olim between the Rosh HaShanah of 2015 and 2016. The Jewish Agency reported over 30,000 olim in 2015; 27,400 olim in 2016 and 28,400 in 2017. American aliyah has typically been around 3,000, with 1,000 from other English-speaking nations.
The Fellowship, founded in 1983, has been promoting aliyah for 25 years, at first with the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh (which the Fellowship helped found). The Fellowship’s founder, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, had served on the executive board of The Jewish Agency and also headed its aliyah committee. In 2014, the Fellowship began operating aliyah programs independently in 27 countries, and claims to have assisted 10,000-12,000 immigrants since then.
The Fellowship says it raises more than $140 million per year, mostly from Christians, for their work. “Thanks to our millions of Christian friends in the U.S. and in countries from Brazil to South Korea, we are playing an increasingly active role in bringing new immigrants to their Jewish homeland,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the Fellowship’s founder and president. “We are looking forward to bringing even more Jews home to Israel in 2018 and continuing to help build the Jewish state.”
In December 2016, JTA and Times of Israel reported that the Jewish Agency suggested that Eckstein’s group “undermines” the agency’s work and depresses overall aliyah, which the government has empowered the Jewish Agency alone to handle. A Jewish Agency statement charged that “virtually none of the countries in which the [Fellowship] boasts activity have seen increases in aliyah — the vast majority have seen aliyah remain static or drop. … It’s almost as though they have a reverse Midas touch, causing aliyah to shrink wherever they go. … Aliyah is not an area in which competition is helpful or productive.”