Coronavirus: Aliyah should become a national priority, especially now

Despite the coronavirus outbreak, more than 900 new olim have arrived in Israel since the beginning of March.

YOUNG PROFESSIONALS land in Israel on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter aliyah flight. (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)
YOUNG PROFESSIONALS land in Israel on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter aliyah flight.
(photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)
Aliyah has always been the lifeblood of Zionism, which remains the sustaining principle behind the endurance and flourishing of the State of Israel.
Without aliyah, a sovereign return of the Jewish people to our ancestral and indigenous homeland would simply have remained but a hope and a dream.
During our nation’s most challenging times, Jews have continued arriving in Israel to make it their permanent home.
Whether Holocaust survivors from the European Displacement Persons camps after World War II being sent straight into battle during the War of Independence, those from the Middle East and Africa who came during austerity and the emergency measures to weather the economic crisis in the early days of statehood, or those who arrived during punishing wars and bloody Intifadas; the doors to the homeland have remained open at all times even during times of intense instability.
Even during the current novel coronavirus pandemic, which is causing unprecedented global anxiety and unparalleled worldwide travel restrictions, more than 900 new immigrants (Jewish immigrants to Israel are called olim in Hebrew) have arrived in Israel since the beginning of March and the number of new olim could surpass a thousand by Pesach.
Every one of these new olim have begun their new life in an immediate 14-day quarantine, including 62 new immigrants who have come from the US with Nefesh B’Nefesh, 24 of whom came via a group flight.
This commitment from Jews who continue to make aliyah, coupled with those of us who made aliyah in the past from all over the world, should be met with an even greater commitment by the incoming new Government, especially as we celebrate Yom Haaliyah (Aliyah Day) on the Tenth of Nisan.
Over the last year, as we at the Anglo Vision have had the opportunity to meet with many members, leaders and opinion-shapers from the English-speaking community around the country and to understand what unites this community and how we can use our experiences and capabilities to make improvements to Israeli society, one issue has stood out: Aliyah needs to become a national priority.
The State of Israel was built on the ingathering of the exiles, and each aliyah brought with it special capabilities. Many see the aliyah from the former Soviet Union as propelling the hi-tech revolution in the 1990s and 2000s.
The English-speaking Jewish world constitutes well over 80% of the total Diaspora and with around 60% assimilation rates in these communities, this should be seen as an issue of national priority for Israel, Zionism and the Jewish future.
Israel should double or even triple the resources it currently allocates to bringing more Jews from the West in general and English-speaking countries in particular. There should be a focus on these communities to ensure that we reach 10,000 olim from English-speaking countries a year by 2030, more than doubling its current rate.
A report commissioned by Nefesh B’Nefesh and produced by Deloitte undertaken a few years ago demonstrated that Western olim have contributed billions of shekels to the Israeli economy. The study also showed that Western olim return any and all government investment within two years after aliyah.
One reason is that these olim begin paying taxes, often from relatively high incomes, soon after their arrival. Moreover, over two-thirds of Western olim to Israel are between the ages of 18 and 45. This ‘economically active’ group has not only generated high income per capita from tax revenues, but will remain in the workforce for a substantial period of time, resulting in limited dependence on government aid and welfare.
These olim are disproportionately more educated in terms of degrees, so Israel saves funds through this imported education.
These figures amply show that while aliyah is a moral and national imperative, it is also good business sense for a country that will be reeling from the economic downturn that has already begun but will remain long after the coronavirus threat has receded.
As the English-speaking Diaspora remains the overwhelming largest reserve of potential olim, Israelis should understand the potential for our community to play an extremely positive part in the future direction of this country and have much to contribute to our relatively nascent democracy.
Perhaps the fact that we are not viewed as a political sector is to our credit, and is a sign that we are seeking full integration. While we Anglo olim differ on many issues, like security and diplomatic matters, these are some areas where we can coalesce to ensure that change is not just a slogan. That is what we are building at the Anglo Vision.
Immigrants and native Israelis alike have a crucial role to play in the future of our country and Western aliyah can make the difference in the coming years. It is up to our politicians to empower and embolden this great asset to the State of Israel, and make aliyah – especially now – a national priority.
The writer is founder of the Anglo Vision and founder and dean of The Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics and Community Development, an organization dedicated to building Israeli society one community at a time by successfully bringing Diaspora models of community-building to Israel. To contact us [email protected]