In 1910, a few young pioneers formed the 'Group' in Degania – a commune that came to symbolize the aliyah and the early settlement on the land that would soon become the State of Israel. A century later, another gathering of Jewish youth in the Diaspora shows that the future of the aliyah is in the hands of a very different type of group – the one on Facebook.
About half a billion people around the world make use of the social network, which was founded by Mark Zuckerberg (who was raised Jewish). A few dozen users, Jewish university graduates in their 20s and 30s, have decided to utilize Facebook to convince their peers to join them in the move to Israel, and to get to know each other before taking the monumental step.
Immigrants meet their match
In the upcoming days, the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem will welcome the biggest group of single immigrants that it has seen in 30 years: The 220 Jews aged 22-35 have already began arriving from dozens of countries, including the US, UK, Canada, France, Belgium, Russia, Finland, Turkey, South Africa, New Zealand, India and Brazil. Among the olim are doctors, lawyers, business people and teachers.
The new transplants will be received at Jerusalem's Ulpan Etzion, the Jewish Agency's youth center. They will live at the center for a few months, learn Hebrew, tour the country and get to know Israelis their age. Ulpan Etzion is also known to be a matchmaking center of sorts, as quite a few love stories have began within its walls.
The unmarried olim Facebook group, titled Ulpan Etzion, was initiated by two Jewish Agency representatives in Australia and New Zealand, Oren Sela and Shai Feniger. They got the idea when they found out that many young people in their countries and around the world are expected to move to Israel this year. For some members of the group, preparation for the move proved to be a hot topic, while for others it has helped erase doubts that they had about the life-changing step.
'No Jewish pride means no aliyah'
Two of the most active members of the Facebook group are Gavin Beinart-Smollan and Ben Gross from New Zealand, who have already made aliyah. The two attended a Jewish Agency absorption fair that was held in Jerusalem on Wednesday, and soon after they updated their friends that are still abroad.
Beinart-Smollan plans to get a Master's Degree in Jewish education, while Gross plans to study business management. Both noted that meeting other immigrants on Facebook makes the move easier, and relieves the awkwardness that accompanies the first days in a new country.
Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky attended the absorption fair as well, and said that each young Jew that comes to Israel is a bridge between his community in the diaspora and the State of Israel. Sharansky recently announced to the Knesset's Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee the agency's new strategic plan, which will focus on reinforcing the Jewish identity abroad and on educational activities that will encourage aliyah. He said that over the past year 19,000 Jews immigrated to Israel – a 16% increase compared to last year.
"If there won't be any Jews and they won't have pride and Jewish identity, there won't be olim," he said. "Today we invest more and more budgets in programs that encourage aliyah that are customized for North America and the prosperous nations."
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