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Herzog predicts wave of olim when COVID-19 crisis is over

Pandemic withers immigration by nearly 40%

Jewish Agency says about 20,000 olim will have arrived by year’s end, over half from former Soviet Union countries; last year, 33,247 came

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Chairman of The Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog, center, meeting with children who immigrated to Israel during the coronavirus pandemic, December 28, 2020. (David Salem/The Jewish Agency for Israel)
Chairman of The Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog, center, meeting with children who immigrated to Israel during the coronavirus pandemic, December 28, 2020. (David Salem/The Jewish Agency for Israel)

By the end of December, approximately 20,000 new immigrants will have arrived in Israel since the beginning of the year, the Jewish Agency for Israel said Monday.

That number is some 40 percent lower than the 33,247 new immigrants who arrived in 2019, according to Central Bureau of Statistics figures.

International movement has been greatly impacted by the virus spread, as countries — including Israel — at times closed their borders to foreigners in an effort to curb infections, or ordered quarantine for travelers.

The immigrants, from 70 different countries, arrived “despite a year ravaged by the global COVID-19 pandemic,” the Agency said in a statement.

Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog sounded a positive note, as he met with children who immigrated to Israel during the pandemic.

“A wonderful thing happened to us — 20,000 Jews immigrated to the State of Israel during this pandemic year. Twenty thousand people who were ready to leave everything behind, in a challenging period of global turmoil, to come build a new life in Israel,” Herzog said, according to the statement.

“These olim landed straight into two weeks of isolation in a new country, unknown to everyone,” he said, using the Hebrew term for immigrants to Israel.

Anticipating an end to the virus crisis, Herzog predicted that “we will see a great wave of immigration that we are anticipating from all over the world.”

Though the number of people who immigrated dropped, there was “a sharp increase in people interested in moving to Israel,” the statement said. Over 160,000 immigration inquiries were made, and the Agency opened 41,000 aliyah (immigration) application files, twice the number for 2019. There were 28,000 files opened for people living in Western countries. Among young adults, aged 18-35, there was a 41% increase in files opened this year over the figure for 2019.

Agency data showed that in the period from January through November, 10,200 immigrants arrived from countries of the former Soviet Union. A further 3,120 came from Western Europe, including 2,200 from France, about the same number from that country as the year before.

There were 2,850 immigrants from North America, of whom 2,550 were from the US, according to figures compiled in coordination with the Nefesh B’Nefesh non-government group that assists immigration, with a focus on those coming from the US. There were 1,500 new immigrants from Latin America, around 280 from South Africa, and nearly 90 from Australia and New Zealand.

By the end of the year, a total of 1,200 immigrants are expected to come from Ethiopia, 650 of whom arrived in December as part of Operation Zur Israel, a government-run plan to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel. A further 300 Ethiopian Jews will arrive on the last day of the year, the statement said.

Aside from the immigrants, there were also 7,500 Jewish young adults from over 60 countries who came to the country on the Masa Israel Journey volunteer program, a joint scheme of the Agency and the Israeli government.

“The coronavirus outbreak caused unprecedented health, economic, and communal-engagement crises in Jewish communities worldwide,” the Agency said.

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