As we approach Rosh Hashanah and the Aseret Yemei Teshuva, it is a fitting time to take stock of our prior accomplishments and to set goals for the upcoming year.
In an interview with The Jewish Link, Israel’s Minister of Aliyah and Integration Ofir Sofer offered some inspiring updates for community members who are considering making aliyah in the months or years ahead.
Sofer’s background makes his advice to observant Jews in America uniquely compelling. He is a native Israeli, the son of a teacher and a school principal, who grew up on a moshav in the Galilee. He served in the Haruv regiment of the Israeli Army and was severely injured in 1996 during fighting at Joseph’s Tomb. He underwent two years of rehabilitation and publicly shared his experiences with post-traumatic stress. He returned to military service as a training officer and in 2007 he retired from the army with a rank of major.
Sofer worked for seven years as a project manager at the Ministry for the Development of the Periphery, the Negev, and the Galilee. He entered politics in 2014, serving as the secretary general of the Orthodox nationalist party, Tkuma. In the 2022 elections for the 25th Knesset, he ran in the Religious Zionist Party and earned a spot in the Knesset. When his party joined the governing coalition, Sofer was selected as minister of aliyah and integration.
Sofer is married, and he and his wife, Adina, have seven children. They live in Tefahot, a religious moshav in Northern Israel.
Sofer told The Jewish Link that Israel has received a big wave of aliyah from Russia and Ukraine, with over 65,000 olim arriving from those two countries since the beginning of last year. He pointed out that often, some of the biggest motivators for people to make aliyah are severe antisemitism or wars; the State of Israel seeks to increase the number of olim coming from countries that don’t suffer from these extreme conditions, such as the United States and France.
The Ministry of Aliyah and Integration has decided to increase its efforts to attract young olim, because their adaptation process will likely be easier than it would be for established families. The Ministry’s goal is to create Hebrew immersion classes and other programs at Israeli universities such as Hebrew University, The Technion, Bar-Ilan and Ariel University that will attract and help acclimate potential young olim.
As Sofer explained, the Ministry intends to pursue a three-point plan with young potential olim:
- The State of Israel will pay for their education as olim; Sofer said this policy already exists but is not well known; it needs to be better promoted.
- The State will assist young olim by helping them to build a sense of community.
- The State will provide support to young olim with their living arrangements; Sofer stated that this initiative is still under development.
In some cases, the Ministry will build on existing programs and in others, it will create new programs.
First and foremost, said Sofer, a new oleh must learn to speak Hebrew fluently in order to effectively integrate into Israeli society. While ulpan classes are the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, Sofer said that he intends to work with them to increase the types of ulpan classes that are available. He would like to see university-based ulpans, online-only ulpans, full-time and part-time ulpans, and other diverse options. A broader range of options for ulpan will better serve all Olim, but may be especially helpful to busy young families.
Sofer said that the Ministry also plans to encourage new olim to consider living in areas outside the big cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, because the cost of living in areas like the Negev, the Galil and Northern Israel can be lower so the government subsidy will go further.
Sofer concluded the interview by extending a Rosh Hashanah blessing that American Jews experience “more achdut, and more ahava,” both among their different communities in the United States and in connection with their brothers and sisters in Israel.
In a follow-up communication with The Jewish Link, Sofer’s office added that he has been working to establish or strengthen new communities in places like Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Gat and Modi’in, that may appeal to new olim.
Since he assumed the position of minister of aliyah and integration in late December, Sofer has already visited the United States twice to meet with Jewish leaders and community members, in April in New York and Long Island, and in June in Miami and New York (and in Toronto). He also is in close contact with Rabbi Yehoshua Fass of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
Harry Glazer is the Middlesex community editor of The Jewish Link. He can be reached at [email protected]