JAFI Reforms May Hurt Australian Immigration to Israel, Leader Says

An Australian Jewish leader says immigration to Israel from his country is likely to drop in the wake of the Jewish Agency for Israel's recent decision to focus on Jewish identity and less so on aliyah promotion. "We might well see a situation where over time the numbers will diminish," Danny Lamm, the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, told Anglo File recently. "We will still generate the interest [in immigration] in the first place but the impact of not having a [designated aliyah emissary] is an issue."

JAFI spokesman Haviv Gur recently confirmed that there will be no more aliyah emissaries but added that the overall number of emissaries - who will be responsible for aliyah, Jewish education, Israel programs and other areas - will increase.

JAFI employs one fulltime aliyah emissary, or shaliach, in Melbourne, Oren Sella, and one part-time emissary (who is partly paid by the Habonim youth movement ) in Sidney. Gur said Sella would soon conclude his 3-year mission and return to Israel, and be replaced by a general emissary.

Lamm said it was "unfortunate" that JAFI decided last month to close its aliyah department.

JAFI officials have repeatedly stated that their new strategic plan - to strengthen programs fostering Jewish identity instead of primarily focusing on aliyah promotion - does not mean they are abandoning aliyah but that it will ultimately inspire Jews to move to Israel.

"JAFI's new direction is based on the belief that strong communities overseas are anchored in their connection to Israel and to the rest of the Jewish world and that aliyah is an outcome of Israel education and Israel experiences," Gur told Anglo File. "It doesn't make sense anymore, from our perspective, that one shaliach offers educational programs and a different shaliach works on aliyah."

Australia recorded the steepest increase percentage wise of immigration from English speaking countries last year - 45 percent: 240 Australians made the move last year, up from 165 in 2009. There are currently between 120,000 and 150,000 Jews in Australia.

Lamm believes that having an emissary who is entirely devoted to aliyah counseling is crucial in helping those on the fence.

"Let's say somebody has the idea to go on aliyah. He needs somebody to work with, who can answer the questions, who can give him some directions, who's going to assist," said Lamm, a Melbourne-based dentist. "It's very easy for people to hit a hurdle in life and decide not to jump the hurdle. The aliyah shaliach, in our experience, made a tremendous difference."

Several professionals involved with immigration to Israel agreed that having an all-round shaliach might not be as effective as one entirely dedicated to potential immigrants.

"An aliyah shaliach needs to know so many things because potential immigrants have so many complicated questions," said Esther Blum of the Council of Immigrant Associations in Israel.

"It's already difficult enough for one person to know everything about aliyah - how can they now expect to have one person be in charge of everything?"