According to the Torah, the famous first thing God told Prophet Abraham was to leave his homeland, and migrate to what would in the future become the Land of Israel. “The LORD said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)
And the most famous thing Moses told Pharaoh was let my people go. “Afterward (Prophets) Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the God of Israel: Let my people go that they may celebrate a (pilgrimage) festival for Me in the wilderness.” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord that I should heed Him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1-2)
Previously God had said to Moses, “You shall perform convincing wonders before Pharaoh, but I shall harden his heart and he will not let the people go until you will say to Pharaoh: This is what God has said, ‘Israel is My son, My first-born. I have told you, let My son go so that he may serve Me, but you have refused to let him go so I will kill your own first-born son.’” (Exodus 4:22-23)
Later Prophet Moses repeats in more blunt detail: “With our youth and with our elders we will go, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our cattle we will go, for it is a festival of the Lord for us.” (Exodus 7:9,11) And as the world knows we did leave. And the Jewish People have been on the go for most of Jewish History.
Now an article by Yonat Shimron on the Religious News Service web site (July 7. 2023) reports that the Institute for Jewish Policy Research suggests that the recent migration of Jews from both Russia and Ukraine to Israel may be reaching “exodus” levels.
The report, which draws on data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, finds that if trends continue, both Russia and Ukraine could lose a majority of their Jewish populations in the years ahead.
The reasons for the exodus are obvious. While an upsurge of Ukrainian Jews to Israel began in 2014 when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in Eastern Ukraine, the Russian military assault on Ukraine, which began in February 2022, is the major reason for the most recent mass migration. Jews in both Ukraine and Russia have sought to escape the fighting. Israel has absorbed a large number of Russian Jews since the start of the war.
In 2022, a total of 43,685 Jewish immigrants arrived in Israel from Russia and another 15,213 came from Ukraine, the Jewish Agency reported. Israel has a population of 9.6 million people, of which about 7 million are Jewish.
“If migration from these countries continues for seven years at the level seen in 2022 and early 2023, then the critical value indicating an ongoing exodus will be reached and, arguably, surpassed,” the report from the London-based Jewish Policy Research report states.
By that point, the report says, 80%-90% of the Jewish population of Ukraine will have emigrated, and 50%-60% of the Jewish population of Russia. (The report defines an exodus as the departure of between 50% and 75% of Jews in a country over the span of a decade.)
Tens of thousands of Jews still live in Ukraine and Russia, though exact numbers are hard to verify.
In the three months between January and March this year, 18,610 immigrants arrived in Israel, according to Jewish Agency, an increase of 24% from the same period last year, with immigration from Russia accounting for more than three-quarters of the total, the Israeli paper Haaretz reported.
The former orthodox chief rabbi of Moscow recently urged fellow Jews to leave Russia immediately, warning that the country has fundamentally changed after the Ukraine invasion. Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt’s comments came after the Russian Justice Ministry last week declared him a “foreign agent.” He fled to Israel last year after criticizing the war.
The report cites three big modern cases where Jewish immigration to Israel has historically accounted for an exodus: Nazi Germany in the 1930s; North Africa in the 1950s and 1960s; and the breakup of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. About half of Soviet Jews left at that time.