Despite Ongoing COVID, Immigration to Israel Up Nearly A Third over 2020

The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Acting Chairman Yaakov Hagoel with new Olim from 26 countries. Photo courtesy of Elad Brami.

COVID has stopped many things in the world, but it hasn’t halted immigration to Israel, known in Hebrew as “aliyah”. And for the first nine months of 2021, immigration to Israel is up 31% over the same period in 2020—with 20,360 arriving so far in 2021 compared to 15,598 last year. The Israeli press release announcing the numbers on Sunday, ahead of Israel’s “Yom HaAliyah” (or “Immigration Day”) holiday on Wednesday, called the increase a “dramatic rise” in spite of COVID-19.

Pnina Tamano-Shata, Israel’s Minister of Aliyah and Integration, said she is “pleased by the tremendous increase” in the 2021 numbers. “I worked in the government to ensure Aliyah does not stop for a moment—also during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns—because Aliyah is the realization of the Zionist dream,” said Tamano-Shata in the press release.

Since Israel’s re-establishment as a state in 1948, 3,340,000 immigrants have made aliyah to Israel. Yet despite the literal millions of persons so far who have immigrated—persons known in Hebrew in the plural as “olim” or an “oleh” in singular—each one is special.

 “I’m moved by each and every Aliyah flight,” said The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Acting Chairman of the Executive and Chairman of the World Zionist Organization Yaakov Hagoel. “…Olim from across the globe chose to come and build their future in Israel. These olim are a strategic asset to the State of Israel and contribute to every aspect of life. We all must contribute to their integration. We are strengthened by each oleh who comes to Israel.”

Hagoel was quoted by the press release as noting “the challenging period and many limitations brought on by the global pandemic,” while the press release also said that the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration and The Jewish Agency have worked to keep immigration continuing “despite the difficulty and limitations on international travel.”

The country with the most immigrants to Israel in 2021 has been Russia, with 5,075 persons making the move, actually a slight decline from 2020. The United States, meanwhile, also saw thousands move to Israel—a 41% increase for that country over 2020—and France saw a 55% increase with 2,819 immigrants.

The 2021 group of immigrants is also a fairly young one. Almost a quarter of them are 17-years-old or younger, and overall 56.8% of the 2021 immigrants are 35-years-old or younger.

Not surprisingly, the two most famous Israeli cities—Jerusalem and Tel Aviv—were the first and second most chosen new home for the immigrants. The coastal city of Netanya was a close third.

Like so many important aspects of Israel, Wednesday’s immigration holiday is a present expression of a powerful past. Yom HaAliyah always occurs at the same time in the Jewish calendar in which the story of Abraham is read. It’s a Biblical account of not just the father of the people of Israel being called to move to Canaan—it’s also the story of the first ever person to make “aliyah”. It’s a story that’s continuing today, in even greater numbers than last year.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, October 10, 2021)

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