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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Aliyah and Israel: A Closer Look (Part I)

PART I: Why aren't more people making Aliyah from North America?

By Pinchas Orbach for KUMAH

This is the first part of a series that takes an in depth look at North American Aliyah, Israel and what the future holds for the Jewish People.

The title used for Part I was an inquiry posted to a Jewish online discussion board. Many of the "traditional answers" were offered. Life is good in the U.S. and Canada. It's hard to leave friends and family behind. It's easier to stay put. They see no pressing reason to make Aliyah. They can better support Israel both politically and financially from North America. Army service. Terror Attacks. Unstable jobs. You name it - they named it. Each one of these is an entire topic on its own. And they can all be addressed but that is beyond the scope of Part I. (Interestingly most of these "problems" were actually identified by individuals that made Aliyah.)

But perhaps we could offer an entirely different response.

Why aren't more people making Aliyah from North America?

Answer: More people are making Aliyah!

Indeed North American Aliyah is at a 20-year high! Five years ago the numbers were half of where they are today. Steadily, the Aliyah Revolution Kumah and Arutz-7 have been proclaiming for years, advances. To appreciate this progress, one must look at the past, like a child tracks his growth by comparing marks drawn on the wall from long before with a current mark. So let us take a step back in time.

A Revolutionary Idea

Perhaps you have heard of the Nefesh B'Nefesh organization (NBN) by now? In the days before NBN (and yes, even still today) North Americans turned to organizations such as the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) or Tehilla to help them achieve a successful klita or absorption in Israel. Like NBN today, the AACI and Tehilla organize all types of events that give prospective olim pointers on Aliyah. Let's go back to the days just after September 11, 2001. (Yes, not that long ago at all.)

On November 14, 2001, Tehilla hosted a session in Queens, NY with Akiva Werber, Director of the North American Section of the Aliyah Department of the Jewish Agency. Werber provided Tehilla members with insightful Aliyah advice. Then, at the end of his talk, he briefly mentioned Rabbi Fass and Tony Gilbert. Details were still sketchy but he advised the small group present that Fass and Gilbert "have started up something new called Nefesh B'Nefesh - and they plan to give olim grants to help out financially- so that might be something worth looking into." In fact NBN had gone public just one week prior, and honestly, at the time it was viewed by the Aliyah community solely (yes, bad pun intended) as something to help out, a bit, with the financial burden of Aliyah. At the time it was simply not seen as an organization that would ever revolutionize Aliyah.

Let's Talk Numbers

According to the Jewish Agency in 2001 - before NBN was around, only 1378 North Americans made Aliyah. (Actually that was down a percent or so from 1401 American and Canadian olim in 2000.)

The historic first NBN chartered flight of July 9, 2002, flew with around 400 olim on board. Others came on regular El-Al flights. In all, NBN reported that 519 North Americans made Aliyah with them in 2002. Aliyah from North America rose 21% to 1,664 that year according to the Jewish Agency.

The next full NBN Aliyah plane landed in Israel exactly one year later in July of 2003 with 330 new olim. But there was also a second flight that summer that held roughly the same number, and still more North Americans on "spill over flights" bringing the grand total of NBN olim in 2003 to around 1000. Incidentally, the Jewish Agency reported a total of 1873 olim from North America - up another 13%. Notably well over 50% of olim used NBN's services in 2003. The year before only one third of all North American olim did. This clearly showed Jews quickly embraced NBN as the best way to make Aliyah from North America.

And as NBN kept making Aliyah easier, and by now they provided a whole range of support services from social services to employment services and including everything in between, the demand for Aliyah rose even more. So NBN arranged 3 full summer flights and helped 1500 olim come home in 2004.

A Growing Demand

Are you following the trend here? 1500 olim in Summer 2004 alone equals the number that came with NBN in all of 2002 and 2003 combined!

As the demand kept growing, NBN opened up, for the very first time, a winter flight. This carried another 250 North Americans home to Israel. Including the number of NBN olim that came on regular flights would bring the 2004 total to over 2000. In fact, the Jewish Agency reports that, in all, over 2,800 North Americans made Aliyah in 2004 - the highest number since 1983!

We have thus seen that more North Americans are making Aliyah today than ever did in the past two decades. What's more? This Aliyah renaissance has occurred over a short three year span. In the next part of this series we will take a look at the new efforts being made to bring the Aliyah Revolution "mainstream."


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