Despite the coronavirus crisis, 51 Americans immigrated to Israel on a flight that landed Tuesday morning, the immigration aid group Nefesh B’Nefesh said.
Immigration has continued — albeit at a slower pace — since the start of the pandemic, which has shut down air travel and forced restrictions, including mandatory self-isolation for arrivals to Israel.
The new immigrants will therefore spend the first two weeks in their new homes in self-quarantine.
The group ranges in age from 1 to 87 years old, with people hailing from 13 US states.
“The past few months have been challenging at times, with everything going on in the world,” said one new immigrant, Esti Brookhim. “I am so happy to finally be on the plane, and I am excited to start my new life in Israel.”
Nefesh B’Nefesh says it has seen a massive rise in people interested in immigrating since the start of the pandemic.
Almost 800 people applied to immigrate in May 2020, up from 424 in May 2019, it said in a statement. Their average age was 28, and some two-thirds of them were due to move to Israel in 2020.
The organization added that interest in aliyah last month was the highest it has recorded in its 18 years of operations.
“It is my privilege to welcome the new olim who arrived in Israel this morning. Even now, during the pandemic, Israel’s gates are open to Diaspora Jews, as much as possible, while keeping everyone safe and healthy,” said Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata.
“We anticipate an incredible and welcome increase in olim before the end of this period, and even larger numbers in the next few years,” she added. “As such, we are preparing a comprehensive national program to encourage aliyah and effectively integrate immigrants as best as we can.”
Also Tuesday, the government announced that people who immigrated to Israel over the past year, and therefore are not yet eligible for certain social benefits, would receive a one-time payment of NIS 500 (approximately $145).
Tamano-Shata said she approved the payment for thousands of immigrants, adding that she would “continue to work for their health and well-being with all my might.”
In April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced similar one-off stipends for families with children, as well as the elderly and people with disabilities.
New immigrants to Israel receive a number of state benefits aimed at helping their absorption into the country, including modest financial payments and discounts on some taxes.
In 2019, around 34,000 people immigrated to Israel, the largest annual figure in the previous decade.