This past Hebrew calendar year, 5782, was challenging, without a doubt. Yet it was exceptionally beautiful and meaningful. Fulfilling the vision charted in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’ continued at an accelerated pace, with Jews deciding to come home to the Land of Israel in numbers that have not been seen in two decades.
Sixty thousand new olim – Hebrew for those who ascend – arrived between last Rosh Hashanah and this one, choosing Israel as their new home. 60,000 olim settled in the Land of Israel, integrating into the workforce, with thousands of children filling seats in schools. 60,000 excited olim bringing with them their diverse backgrounds, ready to contribute to our flourishing Jewish and Zionist society.
Yes, it’s true that not all newcomers came from the best circumstances, especially our dear olim from Ukraine. With the outbreak of the war, Israel sprang to action. We initiated Operation Homecoming, bringing close to 40,000 olim from the embattled region to Israel, ensuring their safety and carrying out our duty to protect Jews around the world.
As minister of aliyah and integration, it was a privilege to spearhead the initiative in the Cabinet to bring our Ukranian brothers and sisters home. Swift action was taken, with the Jewish Agency renting hotels in Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova, providing a warm bed to thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish refugees, allowing them to rest their heads after the grueling ordeal it took for them to reach safe harbor.
From there, they received help to immigrate to Israel, with planes landing one after another at Ben Gurion Airport. Every day, our ministry offices were filled with thousands of people coming home. While the circumstances that precipitated their aliyah were tragic, the moment those who came as refugees arrived, they were no longer refugees. After all, a Jew cannot be a refugee in the Land of Israel. It’s impossible. Israel is home, even for a Jew who has never stepped foot in the country.
These olim were immediately received with warmth and placed in hotels, rented for them by the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration. And outside of these hotels, children, youth groups, soldiers, and so many other wonderful Israeli citizens gathered, arriving in droves to welcome and support the newest Israelis. Jews from all around the world sent generous donations to help us resettle those forced to flee to Israel. Operation Homecoming was and is a resounding success, as well as a beautiful showing of Jewish unity.
So many emotional moments are etched in my mind forever. One I’ll never forget happened on the day before Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, when a medical plane landed with 20 Holocaust survivors aboard, touching down in Israel after their houses were bombarded by the Russians. Once again, they had been forced to flee from the horrors of war. But this time, they said, was different: “In World War II, there was nowhere to run. Today, we have the state of Israel.” It was a tremendous moment of pride, one that stoked our motivation to keep strengthening the country and connecting with Jewish communities around the world.
This year, 5782, was exceptionally challenging. Yet, together, as Am Yisrael, we overcame unprecedented obstacles, and we will continue to do so. We’ll work hard to turn the moments of unity into years of Ahavat Chinam – lovingkindness. We’ll work hard to solidify our relations with diaspora communities. And most importantly, we’ll work hard to give every Jew the chance to come home to our beautiful and diverse State of Israel.