50% Jump in Immigration From Ukraine Over Past Jewish Year

Tel Aviv top destination among 29,500 newcomers to Israel since last Rosh Hashanah

Judy Maltz
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Jewish immigrants from Ukraine arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport, December 22, 2014. Credit: AFP
Judy Maltz

The past Jewish year has seen a dramatic increase in immigration to Israel from Ukraine.

According to figures published Wednesday by the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the number of immigrants who have arrived in the country from Ukraine since last Rosh Hashanah totaled 6,900 – a 50 percent jump from the previous year. The exodus has been attributed to the political turmoil in the country.

Another 5,900 immigrants arrived in the country from Russia – 23 percent more than the previous year.

It is noteworthy that the many of these immigrants from the former Soviet Union are not defined as Jewish by religious law and therefore cannot marry in the country without undergoing an Orthodox conversion. To be considered Jewish under religious law, or halakha, an individual must either be born to a Jewish mother or have undergone an Orthodox conversion by rabbis recognized by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. It is sufficient for an individual to have at least one Jewish grandparent or a Jewish spouse to be eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.

Immigrants preparing for their first Rosh Hashanah in Israel at an absorption center in Be’er Sheva. Credit: Tali Nehama / Jewish Agency

France was the leading source of immigrants to Israel over the past Jewish year, although the rate of increase from that country was less dramatic. The number of new arrivals in Israel from France since last Rosh Hashanah totaled 7,350 – up 10 percent from the previous year. A combination of a bad economy and rising anti-Semitism explain the sharp rise in immigration from France in recent years.

Altogether, the number of new immigrants arriving in Israel during the Jewish year of 5775 was 29,500, representing an increase of 13 percent. Almost half of the total number came from Ukraine and France. The top destination for these newcomers was Tel Aviv, with Netanya coming in a close second, followed by Jerusalem.

Based on these figures, Minister of Immigrant Absorption Ze’ev Elkin predicted that the total number of immigrants arriving in Israel in 2015 would reach somewhere between 30,000 and 35,000 – a record for the past decade. “This is a window of opportunity that the State of Israel cannot miss,” he said.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky noted that in recent years, the majority of new immigrants to Israel have been coming from democratic Western countries. “These immigrants’ free choice to live in Israel, and their preference for Israel over other countries, is the true triumph of Zionism,” he said.

Immigration from North America was steady at about 3,600 (less that half the number of arrivals from France). Another 690 new immigrants arrived in the country from the United Kingdom (up 13 percent), 400 from Italy (up 30 percent) and 290 from Belgium (steady).

Altogether, immigrants from 97 different countries arrived in Israel over the past Jewish year, with one immigrant arriving from each of the following places: Andorra, Angola, Namibia, Paraguay, the Philippines and Slovakia.

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