We’re experiencing a renaissance in aliyah, an action that for years was associated with images of Jews fleeing persecution and adversity in their countries of origin.
The numbers were made up of Holocaust survivors, Jews from Arab countries, Ethiopian Jews and Jews from the former Soviet Union. They all came to Israel seeking refuge from the hardships they left behind.
In recent years, however, we have witnessed a dramatic shift: aliyah from Western, democratic countries now accounts for greater numbers than immigration from the rest of the world.
A high-tech superpower with a booming economy and low unemployment, Israel has come to be viewed as an attractive destination for Western Jews seeking a brighter future for their families.
And as increasing numbers of young people experience life in Israel through Jewish Agency programmes like Masa Israel Journey and Onward Israel, they come to understand that Israel is both an integral part of their Jewish identity and a place in which they can celebrate that identity comfortably and fully. If in the past the bulk of Jewish immigration to Israel was aliyah of rescue, today it is very much aliyah of choice. It is the product of an affirmative decision to lead a fully Jewish life in the Jewish state.
British Jewry has long been a leading force within British society. From the earliest days of Jewish settlement in Britain until the present day, British Jews have risen to the highest echelons of British culture, journalism, business, politics, and arts. Indeed, this year we will celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, one of British Jewry’s proudest achievements.
I personally remember British Jews’ extraordinary contributions to our struggle for freedom in the Soviet Union, including the invaluable role played by the London-based Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry, known as “the 35s”.
Similarly, there was the work of Royal Navy veteran Michael Sherbourne, who coined the term refusenik and served as our primary channel of communication with the outside world.
And yet, despite the British Jewish community’s full integration into British society and its significant involvement in both national and international affairs, thousands of British Jews have chosen to realise their Zionist dreams by making aliyah, tying their personal fates to that of the Jewish state.
In recent years, in fact, we have seen the number of British immigrants to Israel grow by more than 30 percent.
From diplomats to artists, journalists to lawyers, immigrants from Britain have contributed richly to Israeli society and they continue to do so today, serving as a bridge between the UK and Israel and bringing the dynamic energy of British Jewry with them.
Perhaps one of the most notable contributions of British immigrants in recent years has been the introduction of that most cherished British Jewish institution, Limmud, to Israeli audiences.
Earlier this month. I was pleased to join president Reuven Rivlin and Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat in celebrating Limmud’s unique impact on Israel and world Jewry with the 2017 Jerusalem Unity Prize.
As we honour the contributions of British immigrants to the Jewish state, I encourage you to nominate outstanding British olim for inclusion in the Aliyah List, a partnership between the Jewish Agency and Jewish News.
And as we look forward to celebrating Israel’s 70th birthday, I invite you to learn about the Jewish Agency’s programmes and about all that life in Israel has to offer – and I look forward to seeing you next year in Jerusalem.
Article by Natan Sharansky, Chairman, The Jewish Agency