US’s ‘Great Recession’ is boon for aliya

Dramatic increase reported in N. American, W. European immigration over past year.

June 10, 2010 10:33
3 minute read.
Beit Mitchell. There may not be a class for new im

ulpan. (photo credit: Mark Rebacz)

Jane and Steve Fried always wanted to make aliya. Steve, who had a very religious and Zionist upbringing, lived on a kibbutz during his college years and came back to Israel during the Yom Kippur War to offer his services.

Jane also had a strong desire to immigrate to Israel, especially after she fell in love with the country while on a trip with Steve.

However, the couple lived in Hollywood, Florida, for 30 years, where they raised their kids and prospered from their 19-year-old jewelry business.

“When you have a successful business, and the income keeps coming in, it’s hard to leave,” Steve Fried said on Monday.

But when America entered its “Great Recession” in 2007, jewelry sales fell, and the Frieds saw an opening.

“We did not move for financial reasons,” Jane Fried said. “We had enough money to come and live [in Israel]. It was that the [US] economy gave us an opportunity to do what we had wanted to do for so long.”

The dip in the North American and Western European economies over the past year has led to a dramatic increase in immigration to Israel. For many, like the Frieds, the role-reversal between Western and Israeli economies has made people’s long-held desire to immigrate more of a reality.

Eric Gould, of the economics department at the Hebrew University, sees the Israeli economy’s relative position providing a nudge, rather than an incentive, for people to make aliya.

“I doubt people were going purely on economic reasons,” Gould said. “The economic prospects in New York are still better, but for those who were always thinking about it, in terms of timing, the economy situation could have influenced people’s decision to move now.”

The Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh have reported a dramatic increase in North American and Western European aliya over the past year. Even as the economic conditions in the US stabilize, Danny Oberman, who was promoted to executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh on Monday, said that “interest remains very strong.”

He pointed to Web site activity, which increased by 62.9 percent in April compared to the same month a year ago.

“We have seen an increasing number of singles graduating, seeking employment, and finding employment in Israel, as well as young families who are looking for a cheaper way of life,” Oberman said. “This is the first time in history that the Israeli economy is in better shape than North America and the UK.”

Young families who want their children to receive Jewish educations are the hardest hit by the weak US economy, Gould said.

“As paying for Jewish day school becomes a more and more significant part of their income, young parents who want their children to attend Jewish schools will move to Israel, where it’s dramatically cheaper,” he said.

Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency have both created departments to cater to the niche markets of young singles and families with young children.

“We have started One Aliyah, which is geared toward singles, holding more social events for them,” Oberman said. “We have also started a department focused on young families, helping them find neighborhoods with schools in Israel that fit their needs.”

The Jewish Agency started a Young Jewish Leadership program, which focuses on speaking to students from 40 American colleges about making aliya upon graduation.

A shifting economic climate has also pushed many Britons to immigrate to Israel. Rafi Nassi, director of the Jewish Agency in the UK, has seen the same strong growth, citing a 30% increase in aliya from the UK this past year. Besides Israel’s growing economy, Nassi also points to Israel’s tax reform as another economic incentive motivating British Jews to make aliya.

Immigrants don’t have to pay taxes in Israel for 10 years after aliya, and unlike in the US, UK citizens don’t have to pay British taxes if they don’t have a residence in Britain, Nassi said.

While economic carrots and sticks have resulted in dramatic increases in aliya for the past year, deep convictions about the State of Israel remain the driving force behind many immigrants’ desire to settle here.

“I sincerely believe that there is only one place in the world that the Jews can live in, and that is Israel,” Steve Fried said.

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