They are giving up their homes and leaving their extended families at a time of crisis. One hundred and forty Jews, ranging from a three-month-old baby to an 80-year-old woman, will begin their new life when they get off a plane this morning.
These migrants, however, are fleeing the UK for Israel. And their journey on a chartered El Al plane from Stansted is the most public symbol of a striking trend: at a time when migration to the Jewish state is either declining or levelling off from many parts of the world, an increasing number of British Jews are taking Israeli citizenship. Some blame anti-semitism linked to Israel’s conflicts in the Middle East; others cite the need to show solidarity with Israelis or simply the desire to live in a country where they belong to the majority culture.
In Israel, they will be afforded hero status. Government officials on the plane will begin processing their citizenship papers and when they arrive in Tel Aviv at the same time as two other special flights from Canada and the US, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is expected to be there to greet them.
Many of this week’s migrants, who include accountants, lawyers and graphic designers, simply believe they can enjoy a better life in a Mediterranean country while buoyed up by savings in sterling.
Ilan Benjamin, his wife, Sharon, and their two children, a boy aged eight and a six-year-old girl, are exchanging Liverpool for Hadera, a town which was hit by Hizbullah rockets a week ago during the month long conflict.
“We are leaving a declining Jewish community in Liverpool,” said Mr Benjamin, 40, a kitchen assistant. “Once it was very big, but now its down to under 4,000. I think many of the youngsters go to university and don’t come back to Liverpool, they go to the larger Jewish communities of Manchester and London.
“There aren’t many other families living the kind of life we want for our children. We also have no kosher restaurants so we can’t go out to eat.”
The numbers of Jews migrating to Israel from western countries including Britain, France and the US is rising year-on-year, even as fewer Jews arrive from regions such as the former Soviet Union.
According to the Jewish Agency, 480 British Jews took Israeli citizenship last year while 550 Britons are expected to “make aliyah” this year. Shira Immerglueck, a spokeswoman for the agency in Britain, said: “The majority of them are saying they have been thinking of this for a long time but decided to do this now because Israel needs them.
“Another reason is that in the last four years the Jewish Agency has changed, from being bureaucratic to trying to provide a service, to solve problems like finding them flats before they go to Israel.”
The three flights due to arrive today will be the biggest daily migration of western Jews in the history of the Jewish state. It is largely the work of a private Israeli organisation called Nefesh B’Nefesh (From Soul to Soul), whose main aim is to revitalise North American emigration to Israel.
Among the migrants who have already gone to Israel this year are seven Britons who have joined the “Garin Tsabar” programme which recruits foreign Jews into the Israeli Defence Forces.
Mark Simbler, 24, who worked for his family’s business while in Britain, will begin military training in November. He said: “I know from Israeli friends that going into the army is the best way of integrating into society. I want to know that I am giving back to the society that is taking me in.”
Britain’s rising trend of anti-semitic incidents hit a new high in 2004, with 532. Last year, 455 incidents were recorded by the Community Security Trust, which safeguards Jews in Britain. But although some departing Jews say media coverage is anti-semitic, the consensus is that Jews are safe and largely prosperous. This exodus is not the product of fear.
“We’ve walked to the synagogue and had things thrown at us from cars, but I wouldn’t say anti-semitism is a factor,” said Mr Benjamin. “Everything we’ve planned has been positive because we’re that kind of family.”
We appreciate your support
Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission — at no additional cost to you — for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this service free of charge.