Pandemic piques interest in aliyah among US Jews

As the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc in America, aliyah offices report requests to move to Israel have tripled compared to the same period last year.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s relative success in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak has sparked an increase in the number of U.S. Jews wanting to move to Israel, Makor Rishon reported.

Nefesh B’Nefesh reported an almost 300 percent increase in the number of requests to immigrate to Israel compared with the same period last year, the report said.

The wave of immigration to Israel is apparently gaining momentum after the epidemic caused a large number of deaths in American Jewish communities.

Founded in 2002 to promote aliyah, Nefesh B’Nefesh reported that even though it canceled its March aliyah fair in New Jersey due to the pandemic, 829 households had filed immigration forms, up from 561 households who filed in the same period last year just for New Jersey.

“And this is just the beginning of the trend,” said Nefesh B’Nefesh Vice President Zeev Gershinsky, noting that bigger households were interested so that comparing the total number of persons showed a 76 percent increase over 2019.

Gershinsky said the average age of the applicants was 28 and included 19 doctors and 18 registered nurses who turned to the organization, having heard there was a shortage of doctors in Israel.

Two-thirds of the applicants stated that they want to make aliyah already this summer. Just under half of the applicants come from New Jersey, New York and Florida, which have all been badly hit by corona outbreaks.

The pandemic and the almost total drop in air traffic to Israel has not stopped people from making aliyah during the crisis.

Last week 18 new olim (immigrants) arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on one of the few flights still operating from New York to Israel, and moved directly into a designated quarantine hotel as mandated by health regulations.

They ranged in age from a 1-year-old to 66 and hailed from New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Florida and Illinois.

Last month, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said he expects that up to 100,000 people may move to Israel once the pandemic is under control and called for the government and aliyah-oriented groups to prepare for “a major wave of immigration.