Nefesh B'Nefesh flight mother and kids 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Since 2002, the annual figure for aliya from North America has almost doubled, from 2,040 olim in 2002 to 3,750 over the past 12 months, according to data released by the Jewish Agency on Saturday.
But this year, the number has increased by a modest 160 people over last year’s figure, raising the question: How much more can aliya from North America grow? If you ask Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization that facilitates aliya from North America, the answer is quite a lot. On Sunday, one of its senior officials said he believed the annual number could double again in five years’ time.
Danny Oberman, NBN’s executive vice president, told The Jerusalem Post
he hoped the number of US and Canadian olim would reach 10,000 a year by
2015 – an ambitious goal that would require an average annual increase
of about 1,000 olim over the next five years.
“Growth is exponential,” Oberman said. “Many of the people who we’ve
seen come to Israel this year are friends and family of those who’ve
already made aliya. There’s a snowball effect.”
North America, which is home to about 80 percent of the Jews outside
Israel, contributes less than 20% of each year’s aliya. While higher
than before, current rates of immigration are a far cry from 1970, when a
record 7,130 North Americans moved to Israel.
Recognizing an untapped potential for aliya, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and
Tony Gelbart founded NBN in 2002 to streamline the immigration process,
making it easier for North American Jews to move to Israel than ever
Many of the methods the organization introduced – such as having
Ministry of Interior officials begin the registration process for olim
in their country of origin – are now standard procedure for all aliya
from Western countries.
However, the data released by the Jewish Agency, which partners with NBN
in handling aliya, suggests that immigration from North America might
have plateaued. Over the past 12 months, 3,350 US citizens moved to
Israel, compared to 3,120 the year before – a rise of 230 people. At the
same time, the number of olim from Canada fell from 460 to 380.
Prof. Steven Cohen, an expert on the sociology of American Jewry at
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said there were
plenty of reasons to believe aliya from North America would continue to
rise – although he had doubts about NBN’s prediction, which he said “is
not likely, but it is still in the realm of possibility.”
According to Cohen, there have been two major factors in the growth of
aliya from North America: “the Orthodox population and children of
former Israelis, both of which are growing fast and are the two biggest
pools of people for aliya.”
Eli Cohen, director-general of the Jewish Agency’s Department for Aliya
and Absorption, said he believed the number of North American olim would
rise next year to 5,000, although he expected it to remain more or less
around that number in the next few years.
“I don’t see a jump in aliya numbers from North America similar to that
of the many thousands who came from the former Soviet Union in 1990, or
even a proportional rise in numbers like the one in Argentina during the
economic slump there between 1999 and 2001,” he said.
Cohen and Oberman added that retention rates were just as important as
the number of immigrants. Historically, more than half of the olim from
North America have moved back within a few years of their arrival.
Oberman said one of NBN’s major successes had been in boosting the
number of olim who remained in Israel after the first few years. Thanks
to the organization’s extensive support system, which provides new
Israelis with help finding jobs and building social networks, many more
newcomers have been successfully absorbed.
“That’s really the key,” he said. “I can put people in planes and bring
them over here, but if they won’t stay, it won’t do any good.”