JERUSALEM, Israel – Despite troubles in the region, some 27,000 Jews from around the world decided to make Israel their home in 2016, according to figures released from The Jewish Agency. And although that figure is lower than last year's 31,000, Executive Chairman Natan Sharansky says the trend is still there.
"The high numbers of immigrants over the past two years were due, in part, to a series of external factors that have changed or disappeared, at least for the moment," Sharansky said. Immigration from France and Ukraine had both spiked last year after trouble in those countries persuaded Jews to leave.
"At the same time, despite the downward shift this year, we see that the long-term trends continue and the number of immigrants to Israel, particularly from Western countries, remains high compared to the averages of the past fifteen years," Sharansky said in a statement.
The Jewish Agency is the quasi-governmental organization tasked with managing aliyah (immigration to Israel under the Law of Return), along with the government's Immigration and Absorption Ministry.
The criteria for immigrating to Israel includes at least one Jewish grandparent.
The highest number of immigrants this year came from Russia with 7,000; 5,500 from the Ukraine; about 5,000 from France; and 2,900 from the U.S., down slightly from 3,070 last year.
These four leading sources of aliyah also led the list in 2015 and 2014. Other countries included Brazil, Belarus, England, and South Africa.
"This is evidence of the fact that Israel continues to draw Jews from around the world seeking to live lives of meaning and identity," Sharansky said, adding that "Israel must invest more effort in "finding solutions for the swift integration and absorption of the immigrants." He said the emphasis should be on employment and particularly recognition of professional and academic certifications.
The largest age group of immigrants were between 18 and 35.
Earlier in the week, some 100 young immigrants who arrived in Israel last year from 29 countries lit what they called a "global Hanukkiah" (nine-branch Hanukkah menorah). Some told about their own personal miracles in what's thought of as the season of miracles.
Alexandra, who recently arrived in Israel from Russia, said after visiting several times, she realized that Israel is her home.
"Lighting the Hanukkah candles as an Israeli is my true Hanukkah miracle," she said.
"The miracle of Hanukkah takes places in every generation and it depends on us. If we are connected to our roots and to one another, we can prevail over any foe and overcome any threat," Sharansky said at the event.