In 1987, I was serving as a young Lieutenant-Colonel in the IDF, when I was called by the head of Nativ to lead a group sent to Moscow to assess the likelihood of aliyah from behind the Iron Curtain.
Nativ at the time was a largely covert Israeli governmental liaison organization that maintained contact with Jews living in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.
Our group reported back that there was a strong likelihood that the floodgates for aliyah from the Former Soviet Union would soon be opened.
These were the years of the Likud-Labor National Unity Government, and both prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and foreign minister Shimon Peres instructed all relevant Israeli stakeholders to prioritize preparation for mass immigration.
This demonstrated great leadership and cooperation for the good of the State of Israel. The subsequent history speaks for itself, with nearly one million Jews from the Soviet Union immigrating to Israel during the subsequent period.
This action shows that despite the decades, the Law of Return still underpins our central legitimacy as the national homeland of the Jewish people. It was no coincidence that this law was among the first promulgated by the very first Knesset, pushed by our first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who made aliyah one of the main priorities.
Following the first wave of aliyah from the FSU (former Soviet Union) during the 1970s, the mass aliyah during the 1990s was not only just and right from a Jewish-national point of view, but it also catapulted Israel’s hi-tech revolution and resulted in a surge of engineers, doctors, and professionals, contributing to Israel becoming one of the strongest economies in the world.
Today, we are on the cusp of another such moment, which will almost certainly never be replicated.
Recent studies have shown that another mass exodus of Jews from Russia and Ukraine is imminent. The increase in antisemitism shows that Israel remains the only country that can guarantee the safety and security of the Jewish community, and one where Jewish national life is dominant.
The absurdity of the situation is that as of now, the majority of Jews who are leaving these countries are not choosing to come to Israel, which does not appear to elicit much consternation at the highest levels. Countries like Canada and Germany are recognizing the economic boon these Jews can bring to their countries, and are making great efforts to attract them.
We need action, and we need it now.
Nevertheless, if Israel makes the right decision, we can attract at least 300,000 to 350,000 Jews and their families. This huge influx, the size of the population of Haifa, our third largest city, will create a dramatic positive dynamic in all aspects of life in Israel, and provide a significant boost to the economy through the contributions of engineers, doctors, and entrepreneurs.
The system of making aliyah must be changed
HOWEVER, TO achieve this goal, the system of making Aliyah must be immediately changed, adapted, and streamlined, as it was in the 1980s. Today, it can take six to 12 months for an applicant for aliyah to even meet with someone from the Israeli consulate. In periods with less advanced technologies, this process took a matter of days.
To achieve this nowadays, we need to increase the manpower in the relevant agencies, both in the preparation for aliyah, and the integration systems once they arrive.
This is a matter of extreme time sensitivity.
It is also a matter that requires crossbench support and cooperation. It cannot become mired in political squabbles.
Just as in 1987, the issue garnered the support of both the Left and Right, so too today, all Zionist parties should rise to the occasion and put this issue at the very top of the agenda.
We know that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a major proponent of aliyah of Soviet Jewry and has supported immigration to Israel in all the roles that he has held. The same can be said for Leader of the Opposition Yair Lapid and all the leaders of the Zionist parties in the Knesset.
Just as Shamir and Peres understood the importance of this small window of opportunity, so must our leadership today.
Unlike in the past, when there was an organization one phone call away from the prime minister, today there is too much bureaucracy. If there is no other way forward, it is incumbent to place the issue in the hands of the National Security Council (NSC), because this is an issue with the highest national security implications.
It has been 36 years since that fateful Nativ delegation that I was honored to be a part of.
In Judaism, we place great significance on numerical values, and 36 is twice 18, the total value of Chai, meaning life.
The previous wave of immigration from the FSU gave the State of Israel a massive boost, a new lease of life in so many areas and arenas which benefit us all today.
This new wave can give us a new lease of life, and have a similar effect to the first and second waves from the FSU.
There are not many mass aliyot left. Apart from the US, there is no single community that can reach these numbers of potential olim, and this needs to be reflected in the urgency of the moment.
Many of these potential olim have friends and family who live in Israel and worry about their future. They are concerned about the lack of interest shown in bringing them here, and the disconcerting debate surrounding the long-standing and vitally crucial grandchild clause in the Law of Return.
Waiting for them are, to my estimation, over two million olim and their children living in Israel who immigrated during the last 50 years. This group is not overly politically active, but constitutes a broad swathe of the total population in all spheres. This next potential wave of Aliyah will have a very positive effect on their national narrative and social discourse.
We need to act now and bring this third wave of aliyah from Russia and Ukraine without delay. We dare not abandon them and miss this opportunity and abandon our national, religious, and moral responsibilities as the only Jewish State.
The writer is the chairman of the Center for Jewish Impact, and the former CEO of the World Jewish Congress.