Interest in aliyah, immigration to Israel, has been high since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, according to Nefesh B’Nefesh, a non-profit organization that promotes and facilitates aliyah from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
A strong interest in aliyah during a time of war may seem counterintuitive, but Yael Katsman, vice president of public relations and communication at Nefesh B’Nefesh, told The Media Line that Jewish immigration to Israel almost always rises during times of war, and is currently “very high.”
“Over the years, we have seen during wars and challenging times in Israel that we have a spike of people wanting to be part of the Jewish nation,” she said.
Katsman said that the organization is active on social media, but it has not run any specific marketing campaigns geared towards promoting immigration during this period.
“People are reaching out on their own,” she said.
Jews around the world have faced a rise in anti-Semitism since the outbreak of the war, a phenomenon seen in previous conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The New York-based Anti-Defamation League reported a nearly 400% increase in anti-Semitic activity in the first few weeks of the war, with cases continuing to rise.
In major cities such as New York, London, and Paris, hundreds of thousands of protesters have demonstrated against Israel, often chanting the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which is considered by many to be a call for the destruction of Israel. In several cities, Jewish-owned stores and homes have been targeted with graffiti.
Yigal Palmor, head of the international relations unit and foreign policy adviser to the chairman at the Jewish Agency for Israel, told The Media Line that free flights for Jewish immigrants to Israel have continued despite the war.
In the past week, more than 50 new immigrants, known in Hebrew as olim, arrived to start new lives in Israel. So far in 2023, about 43,000 Jewish immigrants have come to Israel. In 2022, 60,000 Jewish immigrants arrived, many of them fleeing the war between Russia and Ukraine.
The most recent immigrants all started the immigration process before the war began and chose to make the move despite it.
Eti Vitas, 25, only recently moved to Israel from Turkey with her husband after years of planning the move. Turkey’s Jewish population of about 14,300 has faced rising anti-Semitism and hostility from the government in recent years.
Vitas told The Media Line that things have been relatively calm in Israel since she arrived and that a more intense situation might have led her to feel fear over her decision. Her family is still in Turkey despite the rising anti-Semitism there, she said.
Shani Steiner, 30, also arrived in Israel this month from Budapest, landing on Nov. 7, exactly one month after the war broke out. Steiner told The Media Line that she decided to move to Israel two years ago after a Birthright trip revealed her “roots” and prompted her to make the move.
She started the immigration process in February and decided to follow through even after hearing about the war.
“When I heard there is war I wanted to be in Israel even more,” she said.
Most of Steiner’s family still lives in Hungary, with some relatives in Canada. She said that her family is not planning on leaving, particularly as Hungary has had very few recent instances of anti-Semitism and has even barred pro-Palestinian protests.
Many countries are seeing rising rates of aliyah. Palmor showed The Media Line the numbers: In France, 455 aliyah files were opened in October this year compared to 90 in October 2022; in the US, 155 aliyah files were opened in October this year versus 80 in October 2022, and in the UK, 60 aliyah files were opened in October this year compared to 40 in October 2022.
It remains unclear what the ultimate impact of the war and the associated rise in anti-Semitism will be on aliyah rates, but the Jewish Agency has been preparing for a potential new immigration wave, Palmor said.
Palmor says that the country is ready for any influx, no matter the number or the rate at which the immigrants come. As an example, he pointed to the country’s successful absorption of tens of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian immigrants following the outbreak of Russia’s war with Ukraine in February 2022.
“Infrastructure is not a problem,” he said.
Jewish Agency Chairman Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog was quoted on Israeli news channels this week as saying that the agency expects 1 million Jews to immigrate to Israel over the next few years due to rising anti-Semitism.
Wendy Heligman, 76, who was born in Australia and currently lives in the US, is planning to move to Israel soon and told The Media Line that she has considered doing so for some time, especially since her son and grandson live in the country.
The outbreak of the war caused her to postpone the move by a month, she said. She said the war “shook” her, but she realized that coming to Israel would be the right move for her. She said she is excited for the move and plans to live on Kibbutz Hanaton in northern Israel.
“I want to be in my grandson’s life. … He can know that I came during a war, which can give him inspiration if he is one day fighting,” she said.
Heligman said that, given the war, moving to Australia, where her daughter lives, might have been a more rational decision than moving to Israel, but moving to Israel, “although it may be irrational … seems right.”
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