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102 Jewish immigrants from Kazakhstan arrive in Israel this week despite travel ban, corona health regulations

Special evacuation flight was arranged by Jewish Agency, sponsored by International Christian Embassy

Jewish immigrants at the airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan about to board a flight to Israel (Photo: ICEJ)

Israel welcomed 102 Jewish immigrants from Kazakhstan at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Sunday evening.

The olim (Hebrew for new immigrants) arrived on a special aliyah evacuation flight arranged by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and sponsored by the International Christian Embassy – Jerusalem (ICEJ).

Many of the newcomers had planned to make aliyah (Hebrew for immigration to Israel) for months, but were forced to delay their flight due to global travel restrictions, airport closures and Israeli COVID health guidelines.

One JAFI official noted that the flight carrying the Kazakhstani olim from Almaty – formerly Alma Ata, the nation’s largest metropolis – is a small miracle. The challenges included uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 regulations and a series of mandatory lockdowns and travel bans issued by Israel’s government.

There was also difficulty and, in some cases, an inability to obtain the necessary documentation from government offices, including visa and entry permits for the travelers. Upon landing, olim were required to enter a mandatory quarantine and undergo other regulatory measures to comply with the health ministry’s current coronavirus restrictions.

Among those celebrating their aliyah to Israel was a Jewish Kazakh family with two sons – both of whom participated in JAFI study programs and completed their Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) military service with distinction.

Another professional couple immigrated with their 9-year-old daughter: The husband has degrees in engineering and economics, while his wife is an actress, theater teacher and a television presenter.

One young Jewish immigrant, who spent time abroad in London, plans to teach English and continue his Torah studies in Jerusalem. After the quarantine period, he looks forward to reuniting with his grandparents who came to Israel in 1998.

Despite international travel disruptions this past year, there has been an increased number of Jews wanting to make aliyah. Israel’s management of the pandemic – including its aggressive campaign to quickly vaccinate eligible citizens against COVID-19 – has been viewed favorably by the Jewish population abroad. In addition, Israel is perceived as a safe destination with regard to health and travel, and better positioned to recover economically from COVID-19 than other countries.

The government and JAFI – in cooperation with other organizations – have continued to arrange emergency flights for Jewish immigrants. In March, Israel welcomed olim from Ethiopia and various other countries – including the UK, who were greeted by Marina Rosenberg-Koritny, head of Aliyah Promotion at the World Zionist Organization. Rosenberg-Koritny – herself a 1995 immigrant from Kazakhstan – is especially passionate about bringing diaspora Jews to their new home.

In February, a group of immigrants landed from Ukraine and another 300 Ethiopian-Jewish immigrants were granted entry into Israel, including a 6-year-old boy in need of urgent life-saving surgery. Since December 2020, a large number of olim from Ethiopia have been flown to Israel as part of the government resolution, “Operation Rock of Israel,” dedicated to carrying a total 2,000 immigrants from Ethiopia who have waited many years to be welcomed and reunited with their families.

Earlier this month, JAFI Chairman Yitzhak Herzog said, “The landing of the last plane packed with olim as part of Operation Rock of Israel, is an exciting moment that brings a tear to my eye. Families reuniting after many years apart.” 

“I congratulate my friend, Minister of Aliyah and Integration, Pnina Tamano-Shata, and her ministry on the partnership in this successful and complex operation,” Herzog added. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the various donors and all the partners who volunteered to help the 2,000 new olim arrive in Israel over recent months, to start a new life in a new-old country, in the State of Israel.” 

The global pandemic didn’t stop 567 Argentinian Jews from immigrating to Israel in 2020 – a 23% increase from the previous year (2019) when 460 Argentinian olim arrived. Last month, Alejandro Mellincovsky, head of Aliyah Promotion in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay said, “Israel is an attractive country. Even before the pandemic, it was a very attractive country, but now even more, when you see the performance of the vaccination process and the beginning of the recovery.” He added that the trend toward aliyah is “clear and accelerating.”

The challenges of being an Israeli immigrant in the past year have not gone unnoticed. In February, Tamano-Shata, announced the Aliyah ministry had established a multi-language telephone hotline dedicated to the psychological, mental health and emotional support for new olim against the backdrop of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Israeli officials estimate that another 250,000 new Jewish immigrants will make aliyah over the next three to five years.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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