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More Jews Are Leaving Israel, And Less And Less Are Migrating There

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Aliyah sees 9% dip from 2005

By Moti Bassok

Only 19,264 people immigrated to Israel in 2006, down nine percent from 2005. It is the lowest number of immigrants recorded since 1988.

Nearly 3 million people have immigrated to Israel since the country's founding in 1948, roughly one third of which immigrated during the 1990s. Some 300 people immigrated from India in 2006 - a fivefold increase from 2005.


According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, since 2002 - the year in which the major wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union came to an end - there has been a consistent downward trend in immigration. In 2006, immigration was down to 1980s levels, during which time 9,000-24,000 people immigrated annually.

In 2006, only 2.7 people immigrated for every 1,000 veteran residents. In 1990-91, at the height of immigration from the former Soviet Union, that figure stood at an average of 35 per 1,000, and from 1990-2001, it averaged 17 per 1,000. Starting in 2003, that figure fell to below 3.8 per 1,000 - also the rate during 1980-89, the period of lowest immigration in Israel's history.


Emigration from Israel exceeds immigration, report


Tel Aviv (dpa) - In Israel, the number of emigrants exceeded the number of immigrants for the first time in 20 years, the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot reported Friday.

Many emigrants were recent arrivals who wanted to leave Israel again, the report said. In 2007, 14,400 immigrants are expected in Israel while 20,000 people are expected to leave the country, according to the report based on figures for the first months of 2007.

The last time emigration exceeded immigration was in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and in 1983 and 1984 when inflation was high.

Meanwhile the Maariv newspaper reported that approximately a quarter of the Israeli population was considering emigration.

Almost half of the country's young people were thinking of leaving the country, the report said. Their reasons included dissatisfaction with the government, the education system, a lack of confidence in the political ruling class and concern over the security situation.


Right On!: Bring the 'lost Jews' back

The numbers are in, and they don't look too good. For the first time in over two decades, it was reported last week, Israel will likely experience a net negative migration rate in 2007.

In other words, it is estimated that more Jews will actually leave Israel than move here this year - something that hasn't happened since 1984.

According to figures compiled by the Central Bureau of Statistics, a total of just 14,400 new immigrants are expected here this year, or 5,000 less than the number anticipated to relocate abroad.

Sure, demography is far from an accurate science, and there are plenty of unforeseen, or unexpected, events that can enter into play and alter the tally.

But Israeli decision-makers would be ill-advised to dismiss these warnings out of hand. If the projections do prove correct, it would mark the continuation of an alarming trend that began seven years ago, when the number of people making aliya began spiraling downward, falling from 61,542 in 2000 to just 19,267 last year.

For a country that was built on immigration, and which faces a unique set of demographic, political and security challenges, this does not bode well for the future.

Indeed, it seems fair to say that aside from the danger posed by our neighbors' nuclear ambitions, the drying up of aliya may just be the greatest challenge to ensuring Israel's future as a Jewish state.

Simply put, we need more Jews.

Thankfully, various Israeli public figures have been sounding the alarm in recent years, stressing the need to bolster Israel's Jewish population through immigration and absorption by calling on Diaspora Jewry to come home to Israel.

But with the pool of potential immigrants from Russia and the former Soviet states shrinking rapidly, and large-scale aliya from the West not yet at hand, the prospects of this occurring appear marginal at best.

Sadly, world Jewry is not in any particular hurry to move here. While that does not mean that Israel should abandon efforts to encourage aliya, it does suggest that the time has come to start thinking outside of the box, and to begin addressing the issue far more creatively than in the past.

THE FACT is that there is a vast, and largely untapped, reservoir of people clamoring to join, or rejoin, the nation of Israel.

From Poland to Peru, and in places as far afield as Russia, China, Portugal, Spain and Brazil, an extraordinary awakening of momentous proportions is taking place, as various communities with a historical connection to the Jewish people now seek out their roots and long to return to our people.

In many instances, these people's ancestors were torn away from us against their will, as a result of the oppression and persecution that hounded the Jewish people throughout the centuries of exile.

And now, these communities are all knocking on our collective door, pleading to be allowed back in, whether through conversion or return.

I know, because I have visited them frequently in recent years. I have heard their stories, and studied their history, and I am now devoting my life to bringing them back to the Jewish people.

As Chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org) a Jerusalem-based group that assists "lost Jews," I have launched an outreach effort that now extends to nine countries, with a team of rabbis, emissaries and teachers aiming to reconnect these communities with Judaism and Israel.

This includes the 7,000 Bnei Menashe of northeastern India, who claim descent from a lost tribe of Israel, and the hundreds of thousands of Bnai Anousim (whom historians refer to by the derogatory term "Marrano") of Spain, Portugal and South America, whose forefathers were compelled to convert to Catholicism at the time of the Inquisition.

In Poland, there are tens of thousands of "hidden Jews" from the time of the Holocaust, many of whom have only recently begun to rediscover and embrace their Jewishness, while in Russia, 20,000 Subbotnik Jews, whose peasant forebears converted to Judaism two centuries ago under the Czar, anxiously wait for their chance to move to Israel.

I have looked on in wonder as descendants of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, grapple to come to terms with their heritage in a far-off corner of that massive land.

In the Peruvian Amazon basin, I have been moved by my encounters with the Jews of the Jungle, who are seeking to reclaim the religious traditions of their Moroccan Jewish ancestors who settled in the area more than a century ago.

And in the haunting streets of Krakow, Poland, I have met young Poles who only recently learned that their murdered grandparents had been Jews.

Despite the differences among them, these disparate groups all have one thing in common - they face a long and difficult journey back.

The barriers to entry remain high, as Israel's obstinate bureaucracy and world Jewry's indifference create seemingly insurmountable impediments.

Nonetheless, despite the obstacles, Shavei Israel has succeeded in recent years in bringing over 1,200 Bnei Menashe to Israel, along with several hundred Bnai Anousim, and hundreds of Jews from Peru.

Israel's much-maligned Chief Rabbinate has been supportive of our efforts, providing us with a great deal of guidance and encouragement.

If only the same were true of the rest of the organs of the State. Indeed, if Israel's government would just remove the various bureaucratic restrictions blocking their arrival, we could bring back many, many more of our lost brethren.

And I have no doubt that, eventually, we will.

Because the bottom line is that it is in our collective interest, as a nation, as a country and as a people, to reach out to these communities and to facilitate their return.

With their numbers, they will strengthen us demographically, and with their passion and commitment to Judaism and Jewishness, they will reinforce us spiritually as well.

The survival of the "pintele Yid," that hidden Jewish spark buried deep within, in these far-flung lands should also serve to inspire us all.


Edited by koroigetsuga

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