A country of immigrants

Israelis draw encouragement from the ever-growing "aliya of choice" from the West.

Iranian olim 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iranian olim 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
As Israel celebrates its 60th anniversary and we marvel at the modern-day miracle that our generation has been blessed with, we are equally impressed by our nation's fortitude, accomplishments and creativity. Exceeding even the boldest expectations of visionaries like Herzl, Pinsker and Kalischer, the ingathering of the exiles prophesized in ancient times has resulted in a burgeoning Israeli population which currently stands at close to seven million. Today, with the realization of the Zionist ideology, Jews who immigrate from every corner of the earth - representing all ethnicities, cultures and dialects - unite as Israeli citizens. The evolution and miraculous blossoming of this country is largely attributable to its most valuable resource, its human capital. Throughout this nation's history, immigration has been the lifeblood of our very survival and is as vital today as it was in decades past. In our infancy, survivors of one of humanity's darkest eras poured onto the shores of our homeland, seeking refuge and looking towards the future to shed the scars of a horrific past. In the years that followed, waves of immigrants began arriving from Arab lands where Jews found themselves ostracized. In those early years, aliya was rarely based on a willful decision to relocate to Israel but was rather a result of duress, forced upon people by life-threatening circumstances. Similar conditions typified later aliya waves such as those from Ethiopia, Iran and the largest Jewish migration of modern times - from the former Soviet Union. Yet in recent decades, we have been privileged to witness a major transformation in the nature of people seeking to live in Israel. Now Jews are consciously and proactively choosing to build their lives in this ancestral homeland. This new "aliya of choice" signals a revitalization of the Jewish state. Amid all the current global and geopolitical tensions, our people retain a remarkable sense of hope, pride and enthusiasm about the challenges and achievements that lie ahead - infused by increasing Western aliya that impacts so positively on the psychology and economy of our nation. From the ever-increasing numbers of olim arriving from Western nations, Israelis draw encouragement and hope. These proud new immigrants bring with them vital tools and resources and display a will to contribute and help build a stronger and more secure country. This aliya of choice represents the purest form of Zionism, whereby people willingly forgo the material and financial comfort that is often readily attainable in the West in favor of the uncertain realities that define life in Israel. From the early pioneers who toiled the mosquito-infested marshes of the Israeli plains to the 21st-century scientists who work in the confines of sterile laboratories and research institutions, the drive to build and inspire a better future remains constant. Through the support of organizations such as Nefesh B'Nefesh, aliya of choice has become popularized and embraced by all sectors of Western Jewry. It is encouraging to note that all indicators point to a steady increase in this trend in the years ahead. Looking towards the future, we can be confident in the knowledge that Israel is well prepared to welcome the millions more from around the globe who seek to be a part of this miraculous revolution. Today, the ma'abarot (tent-cities) and development towns that characterized the struggles of our early pioneers have been replaced by bustling cities with skyscrapers and thriving business centers that have captured the attention of the world's most prominent corporations. With a GDP that places Israel firmly among the world's leaders, we have succeeded in creating a reality that makes us well-positioned to support further mass ingathering of Jews from around the globe. While we are humble and honest enough to acknowledge the imperfections of our current state, we can feel secure in the awareness of our past accomplishments, which place us in good stead to face the future challenges. However, we cannot rest on the laurels of our past successes in continuing to realize the dream. It will only be through ongoing aliya and strengthening the institutions that support this cherished ideal that we will ensure the future of the modern state. The writer is a former ambassador to the US and heads Nefesh B'Nefesh.