Carrie Hart
News Analyst

Is now the time to prepare to make Aliyah?

Jewish Agency in Israel. Photo by Carrie Hart
Jewish Agency in Israel. Photo by Carrie Hart.

Most universities in America are on summer break and maintaining quiet, while others are still dealing with the aftermath of anti-semitic acts against Jewish students on campus. Even with the anti-Israel encampments gone, universities like DePaul in Chicago, have concerns about campus safety. Weapons were recently found on campus property in what is being called “encampment defenses.”

Families are complaining that their Jewish sons and daughters are fearful to attend the colleges where they have paid tuition. Jewish professors and scientists are being blocked in submitting their papers for publication, and concerned they will not be able to finish their projects. Many investigators are putting the blame for violent protests in the hands of outside groups who are inciting the protestors on campuses to target Jewish students.

While there may be a temporary calm because of the summer break, the wave of antisemitism is not over. And, in some cases, the assaults on Jewish people are already happening outside campus life, as Jewish populations remain vulnerable to attacks of Jew-hatred.

One would think this would lead to a surge in Aliyah from North America to Israel, but apparently that is not the case. While there has been an increase in applications towards Aliyah, actual immigration to Israel has decreased, not increased.

According to Jewish Agency statistics, from October 7, 2003, to April 30, 2024: for the period from the beginning of the war in Israel until the end of April, there has been a 65% increase in opening Aliyah files in the US, reaching 3,991 applications.

There has been an increase of 99% of Jews opening files in Canada, reaching a total of 531 applications during this same time period mentioned.

There is, of course, a difference between opening a file, applying for Aliyah, and actually immigrating to Israel. Sometimes Jewish people open a file and then they take their time, or change their mind, or postpone their plans.

Those Jews who have made Aliyah from January to April 2024:  a total of 522 from the US, which is a 14% decrease from the same time period last year. From Canada, a total of only 65 Jews who have immigrated to Israel, which is 30% less than the same period last year.

While no one knows exactly why Aliyah has been decreasing to Israel, even in the face of greater antisemitism in the West, most analysts think that the war in Gaza and in northern Israel is the likely reason. Jewish people want to start the process of immigration, but they are not ready to make the big life change of moving to Israel now.

Yigal Palmor, head of the International Relations Unit and Foreign Policy Advisor to the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, explains the process and the way his organization serves Jewish communities in the West.  “We are in charge of applications and eligibility. People are either entitled or not entitled to make Aliyah, according to the criteria set by the Law of Return. So, if a person wants to apply for Aliyah, they need to provide certain documentation that will show us if that person is eligible under the Law of Return. Some applications are rejected and other are accepted, again, under the criteria set by the law.”

In North America, the Jewish Agency works hand in hand with an organization called Nefesh B’Nefesh, who get involved in the public relations process of Aliyah.

The Jewish Agency also advertises and introduces Jews to their Israel experience programs. These programs allow Jewish people to come to Israel for a certain period of time — to stay in the land and study. Or, to discover the country, and maybe even work for awhile. It all depends on the specific program they are taking part in.

Masa, for example, is a leading program that immerses Jewish young adults (ages 18-30), in an international experience in Israel. Masa provides study abroad, internships, Jewish Studies programs, etc., to help Jewish young adults to achieve their goals, and to become leaders and professionals in their field of service.

According to Palmor, “There are a great variety of programs. Then, obviously, after the program is over, some people understand what living in Israel means, and then it brings people to apply for Aliyah. Not everyone applies for Aliyah. But, of course, some do, so that is part of our Aliyah encouragement programs. We can offer programs that allow them to pursue academic studies in Israel. Not necessarily going through Aliyah immediately. We understand that this is a big decision.”

What the Jewish Agency hopes is that the Israel experience will lead to the tougher decision of young people and their families — making the move to live in Israel. But, Palmor sees it as a personal, independent decision. “Feel the water first. Maybe, study in Israel. Maybe walk around the country. That’s fine. If they want to return afterwards, we have lost nothing, because they will have a strengthened sense of identity and connection with Israel, which is great. And, if they want to make Aliyah after that, that’s great too. The door is open.”

The Jewish Agency offers the services of a Global Service Center, where Jewish people can register and be helped in the Aliyah process by trained consultants. The idea is that the Jewish person applying, begins the complicated process, but there is someone there to guide them through it. They are being prepared for their new life in Israel. Once the paperwork is in order, including final documents, those making Aliyah receive a free, one-way flight to Israel (according to information on the Jewish Agency Web site).

This writer mentioned to Palmor that some Jews, who are secular and not religious, seem to think they are not going to be accepted in Israel, so they don’t even bother to apply for Aliyah. Reformed Jews are an example of those who are hesitating.

Palmor explains the idea is to connect with Israeli communities that are like them: “If they are connected to a community which is reformed, there are reformed communities in Israel… If they are really totally disconnected from any kind of Jewish organizational life, but still would consider making Aliyah, then we have these programs, from which they can get an experience of Israel, for a period that suits them.”

The Jewish Agency has three-month programs and one-year programs. Palmor says there are all kinds of tracks that they offer for Jews to experience life in Israel and connect. They can then decide for themselves if they feel at home, if they feel wanted, and if they feel they would like to move to Israel.

One organization that connects Jews in the West to community life in Israel is B’nai B’rith International. They have branches in Israel, and invite Jewish people to take part in visits and delegations to the land.

When this writer asked about whether immigration to Israel could be rushed in some cases, Palmor answered: “Don’t do anything hastily. Aliyah is a process. That means to be prepared, carefully. You have Jewish Agency counselors who will help you do that. You should know exactly what you are going to do when you arrive in Israel. Where you want to live; where you want to work or study; where you want to put your children in school. You have to prepare for all that. You have to understand the Israeli system, health system, national security, etc.”

Yet, what happens if antisemitism continues to increase in North America, then what?

Palmor states: “I would warn against alarmism We are not talking about 17th century Poland with the Cossacks at the gate. Let’s make no mistake, Jews are still, by and large, safe in democratic countries. There are some condemnable incidents here and there. There have been deaths to deplore. We are not blind; we see that. But, it’s not like people need to rush into an exodus out of any democratic country. If you do consider moving to Israel, that’s a good choice. But, I would say, again, no rush, no panic. Will it become more intense?  I have no idea what will happen, next month or next year, and I don’t think anyone can make forecasts. Of course, we are prepared.”

When asked about Aliyah from Latin America, Palmor said it is on a downslope over the last year. There is no sign of an uptick in applications, as in North America. The situation is very different and there is no “scientific explanation,” according to Palmor. It could be that Jews who do want to leave their countries, in Latin America, may prefer to move to the US. For example, he considers Miami a big Latin American capital.

In recent years, Latin American Jews have been encouraged to move to Spain and Portugal, especially wealthy businessmen who are looking to invest. There are laws that have passed in both countries that favor Jewish immigration to those two countries. Palmor says that these nations are growing, steadily, not by natural growth, but by the constant arrival of Jewish immigrants from Latin America. The Jewish Agency remains very active in Spain and Portugal.

In the meantime, the vision of the Jewish Agency is on their website: “A secure, diverse and thriving Jewish People, united by our heritage and by our commitment to Israel, the homeland of the Jewish People and all its citizens.”

Their stated mission: “The Jewish Agency provides the global framework for Aliyah, ensures global Jewish safety, strengthens Jewish identity, and connects Jews to Israel and one another, and conveys the voice of the Jewish People to the State of Israel to help shape its society.”

The hope is that, in the future, Jews in North America will not feel pressured to make Aliyah because of continued aggressive acts of antisemitism, but instead will be able to prepare, and come to Israel through a shared experience of planned immigration.

For more information, go to the Jewish Agency website:

About the Author
Carrie Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, military and social issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.
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