From blue-and-white-and-red to white-and-blue.
The latest group of French Jews to make aliyah exchanged more than the colors of their national flag when they arrived one recent day at Ben-Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv. They are starting new lives in their spiritual homeland.
The newcomers from France, ranging from infants to senior citizens, are part of an estimated 8,000 French Jews — motivated by the terrorist attacks in January at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris, and the series of fatal attacks in the capital a month ago — who are expected to make aliyah by the end of this year.
To prepare for the increase in French aliyah, the Jewish Agency has doubled the number of French speakers in its Israel call center, increased the size of its staff in France, and worked to reduce the accreditation barriers that face professionals from France.
The French Jews who arrived earlier this month received an elaborate reception at Ben-Gurion Airport, including a speech by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky. “We wanted to make sure that we welcomed the new olim in the most festive and appropriate way possible,” Jewish Agency Spokesman Avi Mayer told the Tazpit Press Service. “Immigrants come from France every single day. That is not unique today.”
The Jewish population of France is about 700,000.
“It was the first time ever that more than one full percent of a country’s Jewish population made aliyah in a given year,” Mayer said, “and we expect that growth to be continuing for the foreseeable future.”