Israel marks Aliyah Day with more 15,000 new immigrants so far this year

Aliyah way down on 2019 figures due to COVID-19 pandemic. Two new immigrants, one born in Bergen Belsen, one a pro-Israel US college activists tell their stories.

Aliyah Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (photo credit: HAIM TZACH)
Aliyah Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata
(photo credit: HAIM TZACH)
In what has become an extremely complicated year for immigration to the Jewish State, Israel celebrates Aliyah Day on Sunday and the more than 15,000 new immigrants who have made it to the country so far this year, despite the global pandemic raging across the world.
The COVID-19 crisis around the world shut down air travel for long periods of time, drastically reduced the number of flights available, and closed down or restricted the operations of government bureaucracies, all of which have made the usually daunting task of aliyah even more difficult this year.
Nevertheless, a total of 15,647 pioneering souls have made it to the shores of the Jewish state so far this year, despite the additional obstacles, the youngest of whom was just 20-days old from the UK, and the oldest was the grand old age of 97, from Canada.
This figure is however far below the 29,419 immigrants who had arrived in Israel from January to October 2019.
"Aliyah Week is a great opportunity to salute the new Olim as well as the ones who have already settled, for their tremendous contribution to national, economic and social growth,” said Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano Shata.
“Since the establishment of the state of Israel, more than 3 million olim have made Aliyah, and despite the challenges of the global pandemic, the increase continues. Since the beginning of the year, we have embraced more than 15,000 Olim, and we expect significant waves of Aliyah in the next five years. Therefore, I formulated and submitted to the government a comprehensive national five-year plan to promote the encouragement of Aliyah and optimal integration of the Olim.”
One of the newest of Israel’s new immigrants is Florence Wiener, 72, who made aliyah just this September with the assistance of the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization which assists in aliyah from North America.
Florence was born in 1948 in the Bergen Belsen displaced persons camp where her parents ended up after surviving the Holocaust and met and married after their respective families were murdered by the Nazis.
Florence’s parents originally considered emigrating to the fledgling State of Israel and sent some belongings there in 1948, but ultimately deciding to move to the US due to the intense trauma they suffered during the Holocaust.
“My parents wanted Israel for their children but they couldn’t pull it off, after the trauma of the Holocaust they said they couldn’t go from the trauma of one war to another, they said they had to protect their children,” Florence said.
Her husband David said that he and Florence had for a long time wanted to make aliyah, and came close on a couple of occasions in the 1970s and and 1980s but that it never quite worked out.
“We grew up with very Zionistic parents so it was always something we were thinking about,” he said, noting that he and Florence visited Israel for nine weeks in 1970, and even lined up jobs, but that ultimately they needed to return to the US
Florence and her family also spent two years in Israel in the early 1980s during her husband’s sabbatical, and although the family very much wanted to remain circumstances meant that it was not the right time for the move.
But this September it finally was able to happen.  
“My husband David reinforced those feelings of love of Israel, and strong ties to the state, and it was just something that became a strong part of my life,” she said of her motivation to ultimately move to the Jewish state.
Florence says that having waited for so long to finally make aliyah, the COVID-19 pandemic did not put her off.
“I got married very young, I had triplets at a time when that was not something normal I had to take care of my parents when they were elderly,” she recalls. . Everything was a challenge, but I did it.
“Then COVID comes along then you say to yourself ‘This is just another challenge and I’m going to move on and I’m going to do the best I can. I’ll try and be safe, do the best I can, and I’m don’t regret it, I’m so happy here,” said Florence.
“We have three children and many grandchildren living in here, and we thought that it’s time to be here now, and it’s great now to finally be here,” said David.
Jordana Meyer, 22, is another recent immigrant who arrived in July.  Meyer is participating in the Scouts Garin Tzabar program operatd by the Aliyah and Absorption Ministry, and which has taken her to begin her aliyah on Kibbutz Geva in northern Israel and through which she will shortly join the IDF.  She recently completed her undergraduate degree at New York University, where she was also the leader of a pro-Israel advocacy student group and a champion of the Jewish state on campus.
Meyer was involved in numerous battles for Israel’s image during her time in university while being the subject of several antisemitic attacks, harassment incidents and even death threats.
She says she grew up in a very Zionist household, went to a Jewish day school, and was a member of the Young Judea Zionist youth movement, and that Zionist and love of Israel was “always in the air” in her home and the possibility of aliyah was always a real one.
Although deeply committed to her campus activities on behalf of Israel, Jordana says that it became “exhausting and draining” because of the constant struggle against anti-Israel voices but that itself spurred further her desire for aliyah.
“I was combatting BDS, I was telling high schoolers about college life for Jewish students, and hearing myself telling those stories, reinforced those dormant feelings in me that my place isn’t in US anymore, but was in Israel,” she said.
“There are lots of challenges here, but here I can be Jordana first, and not a Zionist first. Being a Jew in the US is not considered a difficult thing…But I I felt that other people on my campus and in my life got to represent and celebrate their culture, while I had to defend my culture all the time.
“The culture here in Israel supports me and accepts me, and I don’t have to make a space for my self for my self because it’s already here.”