Aliyah recovers from COVID-19 slump in 2021, new record of US olim

A total of 27,057 Jewish immigrants became Israeli citizens in 2021, compared to 21,120 in 2020 and 35,651 in 2019 -- the last year of immigration before the coronavirus pandemic.

 Recent olim to Israel (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)
Recent olim to Israel
(photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)

Jewish immigration to Israel increased by 30% in 2021 from the previous year, breaking records for immigration, and the highest migration from the United States since 1973  – despite COVID-19 travel restrictions – the Aliyah and Integration Ministry, the Jewish Agency, and Nefesh b’Nefesh announced in a press conference on Wednesday.

27057 Jewish immigrants became Israeli citizens in 2021, compared to 21,120 in 2020 and 35651 in 2019 -- the last year of immigration before the coronavirus pandemic.

“Aliyah continues to break records,” said Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata. “Despite the pandemic and its limitations, Aliyah to Israel did not stop and we’re happy to welcome tens of thousands of Olim who chose to make Aliyah this year. Olim are an incredible growth engine for the Israeli economy and are a national, economic and moral powerhouse for the nation.” 

4000 Americans made Aliyah with Nefesh b'Nefesh, which was also the second most popular point of origin for new immigrants. With 7,500 new immigrants this year, Russia was the most popular origin point. France, Ukraine and Ethiopia followed the US for most olim.

“We are thrilled to see a sharp increase, of tens of percentage points, in Aliyah from countries such as the U.S., France, Argentina, the U.K., South Africa, Australia, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and more,” said Yaakov Hagoel, Acting Chairman of The Jewish Agency.

 A recent oleh to Israel at Ben Gurion Airport (credit: YONIT SCHILLER) A recent oleh to Israel at Ben Gurion Airport (credit: YONIT SCHILLER)

Shai Felber, director-general of the Jewish Agency Integration offered multiple reasons for the spike in aliyah, from Israel’s pandemic proven medical system to antisemitism rearing its head, but the most novel idea presented at the meeting was that the pandemic had removed social barriers preventing people interested in aliyah from making the move. Candidates were already socially distanced from family members, and remote working had been popularized – These life bonds wouldn’t be further impacted by moving to another country.

The ministry wasn’t satisfied with 2021’s numbers, seeking more ambitious objectives and initiatives. Of those that begin the aliyah process, many don’t finish. Tamano-Shata wants to increase the number of those who open an aliyah file and succeed in making aliyah up from 50% to 80%. Another ambitious initiative floated by the Aliyah organizations were digital platforms that would serve as guides through every process of aliyah.

2021’s olim were largely young, 55% of them under the age of 35. Only about 15% were 65 and older. From among the 27,057 olim, 1,100 were medical practitioners, 1,670 in engineering, and 750 were educators. 4957 of the olim became lone soldiers, soldiers without any immediate family in the country.

2,870 immigrants made Tel Aviv the favored destination for olim in 2021, but Jerusalem was a close second with 2,760 new residents of the Holy City. Tamano-Shata praised the new Jerusalemites’ Zionism, and the popularity of Jerusalem was why she announced a new Jerusalem aliyah district – which will be responsible for services to new immigrants.

Tamano-Shata said that the ministry was actively marketing the Galil, Golan and Negev as an option for olim – Which she rejected as being labeled‘ periphery.’ She was also quick to note that the days in which olim were told were to live were long gone, and the ministry merely wanted the olim to have the options made available to them.

Tamano-Shata, presented the statistics along with representatives from Nefesh b’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency at the Aliyah and Integration Ministry building in Jerusalem. The minister and representatives repeatedly emphasized the role that partnership between all the aliyah organizations played in the year’s successes.

“We operate in a world of cooperation, and I don't think anyone would have been able to do all this alone,” said Nefesh b’Nefesh Executive Vice President Zev Gershinsky.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2019, Israel has implemented strict regimens restricting travel to and from countries designated as regions with high infection risk.

The pandemic restrictions have at times prevented the non-citizen families of many olim from entering the country to the frustration of those celebrating births, weddings, and other family events.

Tamano-Shata said that those decisions weren’t part of her ministry’s mandate, but because the issue impacted olim, she would make sure that the issue was “on the table” in front of the relevant parties.

The aliyah numbers are up to date as of December 20 – With the organizations expecting more new arrivals before the new year.