Christian-funded group begins bringing French Jews to Israel

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — An Israeli organization with major funding from Christian donors brought 17 French Jews to Israel in what its founder said was the “end of a monopoly” for the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The newcomers brought to Israel by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, or IFCJ, arrived in Israel on Dec. 27. They constituted the first group whose aliyah, the Hebrew-language term for Jewish immigration to Israel, was facilitated by his organization since it began working in France six months ago, IFCJ founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein told JTA.

The group was part of a total of nearly 7,900 Jews who will have arrived this year from France, according to the Jewish Agency’s France director, Daniel Benhaim. The figure is an all-time record that made France Israel’s largest provider of Jewish immigrants for the second year straight.

Eckstein said the decision to start working in France followed IFCJ’s entry last year into Ukraine as aliyah facilitators. “French Jews came to us and asked us to do our aliyah program,” he said. “We believe we can help bring more French Jews, in larger numbers, by helping with their absorption.”

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IFCJ offers olim who come with the group six months’ rent or a $1,000 one-time grant – assistance not offered by the Jewish Agency, which Eckstein says “will increase aliyah because it takes away from the anxiety” connected to it. Additionally, the group buys container space for olim to ship furniture to Israel.

But Benhaim said the olim coming with IFCJ all registered with the Jewish Agency, only to switch to the IFCJ flight because of its incentives. “IFCJ is not increasing aliyah, it is trying to take away from the Jewish Agency anyone who can be persuaded to pose for a photo-op,” he said.

IFCJ used to donate $13 million annually to the Jewish Agency but began using the money for its own aliyah programs in 2014, Eckstein said. That year, IFCJ and the Jewish Agency sparred over Ukrainian olim.

The Jewish Agency’s spokesperson department told JTA: “We are concerned that the financial incentives offered to some olim who go with IFCJ create two classes of olim, leading to inequality.”

But Eckstein said the Jewish Agency was angry over losing its monopoly on French aliyah.

“We first took away the monopoly of the Jewish Agency 10 years ago when we started Nefesh B’Nefesh,” said Eckstein, who was a major donor to that group, which handles aliyah from English-speaking countries. “We’re ending the monopoly again because we know we can increase French aliyah.”

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