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An Unexpected Surge In Aliyah During The Pandemic

Since the pandemic’s start in early 2020, we have witnessed global upheaval and challenges of wide-ranging consequences. A once in a century pandemic that caught the globe flat-footed has changed so much for so many. In all likelihood, at least some of these changes will be permanent. However, though we continue to navigate through COVID, there is an apprehensive optimism materializing due to a combination of mass vaccination drives and indications that the latest variant is less concerning

Zooming out from the “fog of war” that the pandemic inflicted, some counterintuitive trends have emerged. One of these is the large number of people making aliyah to Israel even during a pandemic that shut down international travel. At the start of the crisis, in March 2020, if one were to ask whether there would be a steady flow of people trying to move to Israel, even as borders were closing, most would venture to say that there would be a decrease if not a near-total stop to the aliyah process. Instead, the pandemic has proved itself to be a powerful catalyst, resulting in a blockbuster two years of Jews from around the world and especially from the United States moving to Israel. 

While there are various theories as to why there has been such a surprising surge in interest for aliyah among the Jewish diaspora during the pandemic, we believe there are four core drivers. 

1) COVID Was A Reminder That Life Is Short 

Crises tend to have the unique power to put life into stark perspective. COVID-19, which has inflicted so much death and suffering, likely made people realize that making their lifelong dreams a reality should be a priority as tomorrow is not guaranteed. Specifically, suppose one were to ask Jews living outside of Israel whether they would like to live in the holy land. In that case, an oft-cited refrain is that while it is a desire, it is not feasible because of some challenge or other, generally financial. While these challenges still exist, the change in perspective has minimized the friction the challenges posed. 

2) The Work From Home (WFH) Dynamic

One of the most transformative changes that COVID brought about on the business front is the “work from home” (WFH) or “work from anywhere” (WFA) dynamic. While alternative work arrangements departing from the traditional five days a week in the office regime were already in flux prior to the pandemic, COVID accelerated the widespread adoption of such work frameworks. As a result, while some companies have mandated return to the office, especially those in the financial and legal sectors, by and large, remote work arrangements are here to stay. This new reality of work has and will continue to make a move to Israel more feasible for various business professionals while maintaining their current jobs and associated financial security. 

3) Increasing Social Unrest 

At the outset of the pandemic, the United States saw a surge in societal unrest and violent crime. Further, statistics show that anti-semitic attacks are sharply increasing. Jews in the states saw a police force handicapped and unwilling or unable to perform their public safety mandates. The sheer chaos and destruction on the streets of major American cities frightened Jews and acted as a strong motivator for seriously considering a move to the Jewish homeland. 

4) Israel Continues To Solidify Itself As An Economic Powerhouse

By all accounts, Israel will shape the 21st century as the world moves farther into the fourth industrial revolution and the Israeli information economy becomes fully mature. This is illustrated in part by the country’s record startup fundraising and comprehensive economic growth. Moreover, the robust activity and associated opportunity provide further reasons for those unsure about job prospects if they move to Israel. 

Aliyah By The Numbers 

For context, since the founding of the state of Israel, more than 3,340,000 immigrants have made Aliyah to the country. At the end of 2021, the final tally was 27,050 people making Israel their new home. Moreover, 4,000 of the new immigrants came from the United States, the highest figure since 1973, which may speak to the current waves of unrest and uncertain future of the United States that some might see.

Aliyah from other countries are highlighted below: 

  • 400 immigrants arrived from Canada
  • 3,500 immigrants came from France, which is a 40% increase and the highest number in four years
  • 7,500 immigrants from Russia, a 10% increase from 2020
  • 3,000 immigrants from Ukraine, which is a 5% increase
  • 900 immigrants from Argentina, which is 55% more than last year
  • 630 immigrants from the UK
  • 550 immigrants from South Africa
  • 550 immigrants from Brazil
  • 280 immigrants from Mexico
  • 1,636 immigrants came from Ethiopia as part of “Operation Zur Israel

Unsurprisingly the two most common cities for new immigrants are Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Other popular destinations are Netanya and Ashdod. 

Words Of Optimism Fromm Pnina Tamano-Shata, Minister of Aliyah and Integration 

“I am pleased to launch Aliyah Week for 2021 where we salute olim for their contribution to the State of Israel. I worked in the government to ensure Aliyah does not stop for a moment – also during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns – because Aliyah is the realization of the Zionist dream. I am pleased by the tremendous increase in the number of olim who decided to make Aliyah to Israel since the beginning of the year. We at the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration will continue to work to assist olim in the aliyah and integration process in Israel.”

– The Jewish Agency For Israel