Israeli leaders welcomed more than 200 new immigrants (olim) from France, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Russia on Wednesday at a festive reception at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Kicking off this year’s “season of aliyah,” in which thousands of new immigrants from all over the world arrive in Israel during the summer months, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Israel Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, and the Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal held the welcoming ceremony for the olim.

Among those who departed Flight 100 from France were 80 Parisians who planned on settling in Jerusalem, Netanya and Tel Aviv. The youngest on the plane was just 2 months old, with the oldest, 79. Of the new immigrants from France, 35 children will join the Israeli education system this fall.

French brothers Gabriel, 16, and Netanel Zeitoun, 17, told JNS that they are making aliyah “for their future.”

Netanel, who will be participating in a Masa program in Jerusalem before joining the Israeli Defense Forces, said “we both think that if making aliyah is going to give us a lot, we have to give back to the society that accepts us and gives us so much.”

Brothers Gabriel (left) and Netanel Zeitoun just hours before departing to Israel on their flight from France, July 17, 2019. Photo by Eliana Rudee.

Passengers on the plane also included Brazilian and Argentinian singles participating in the Jewish Agency’s aliyah program for young adults. From the airport, the group departed to Jerusalem, where they will participate in intensive Hebrew-language study classes (ulpan) for several months, and then begin employment and higher education programs in Israel.

Ary Korenvais, a 31-year-old computer engineer from Buenos Aires, said he is excited to “start a very nice, new life” in Israel. He will be enrolling in Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem to learn Hebrew.

“I feel at home in Israel,” he told JNS. “I have family from both sides there. People are nice, and it’s a better place for high-tech and data science.”

Welcoming them at Ben-Gurion International Airport on July 17, 2019. Credit: Eliana Rudee.

Carolina Hidalgo, 28, from San Juan, Argentina, said she has “always felt more Israeli than Argentinian,” especially after living in Israel for four months with her family when she was 12.

“I fell in love [with the country],” she told JNS.

Hidalgo will be enrolling in Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem and hopes to pursue a career in acting. “I’m looking forward to expanding my mind, learning and being more spiritual,” she said.

‘There is something special about Israel’

At the same time, another 80 new immigrants came in from Russia, mostly from Moscow, including a year-old baby and 25 schoolchildren. Most of these families plan to settle in Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Rishon Letzion.

Israeli leaders welcome the more than 200 new immigrants (olim) from France, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Russia who kicked off this year’s “season of aliyah,” in which thousands of new immigrants from all over the world arrive in Israel during the summer months, July 17, 2019. Credit: Eliana Rudee.

Olga Pasechnik, who will move to Rishon Letzion from Moscow with her husband and three children, decided to immigrate to Israel after “learning about Jewish culture and discovering in ourselves a strong Jewish identity.”

“I’ve always wanted to get to Eretz Yisrael [‘Land of Israel’]; it was my dream,” she told JNS. “Russia is Russia, but there is something special about Israel.”

Concurrently, seven new immigrants arrived from Venezuela as part of a continuation of the mass exodus of Jews fleeing a country that has seen violence, a failing economy, lack of food and protests against Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.

Arrivals of all ages are starting new lives in Israel. Photo by Eliana Rudee.

According to CAMERA’s Daniel Kosky, “Anti-Semitic language was often used by the former President [Hugo Chávez] to deflect from criticism of the country’s financial situation. This anti-Semitism convinced many Jews to flee the country but the recent crisis has continued the trend.”

Kosky noted that “the current Jewish population of the South American country is now just 9,000, compared to 25,000 in 1999,” with the majority of Jews leaving for Israel or the United States, particularly Florida.

Deborah Silvera made aliyah with her 14-year-old daughter from Caracas, citing economic and security conditions that “wouldn’t allow us to stay.”

While she maintained that the Jewish community in Venezuela’s capital city is “great,” the doctors are “the best,” and “there are good people there,” she told JNS that “it’s hard to be there—food is expensive, you can’t grow a business there, it’s dirty, and it’s dangerous to be out on the street past 7 p.m. or even while you’re on the phone.”

“The president doesn’t like Jews; he is pro-Palestinian,” added Silvera.

Despite Venezuela’s dangerous streets and anti-Semitic leaders, said Silvera, “I don’t come to Israel because I have no other choice; I’m choosing to go,” she said. “I love Israel, and finally, it’s our country.”

Silvera and her daughter will move to a Jewish Agency-subsidized absorption center in Ashdod, where it is her hope that “my daughter will flourish in Israel, where she can be like a child—developing, learning and eventually get married.”

Joining the ceremony to greet the new arrivals were an additional 200 people—young adults, ages 18 to 35, who recently arrived from 27 countries, and who are participating in special programs for new immigrants sponsored by the Jewish Agency, and the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration.

Embracing on the tarmac. Credit: Eliana Rudee.

Also welcoming those departing El Al airlines were chairman of the Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog; Minister of Aliyah and Integration Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yoav Gallant; Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef; and Sam Grundwerg, world chairman of Keren Hayesod-UIA.

As the primary organization fostering aliyah and absorption, the Jewish Agency has brought more than 3 million immigrants to the Jewish state.

Herzog expressed his joy and excitement of the new immigrants who “will soon begin a new chapter of life in their historic home.”

In the coming months, he noted, “the Jewish Agency plans on welcoming thousands of additional olim to our absorption centers throughout Israel and will assist their integration into the mosaic of Israeli life.”