A record number of Jews from North America began their Aliyah process in the last quarter of 2023 amid the ongoing Iron Swords War.
According to numbers from Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and JNF-USA, 720 new Olim arrived in Israel since the October 7 Hamas attack, and 4,175 individuals and families opened requests to start their own Aliyah process. In the same quarter in 2022, only 1,985 requests were submitted, representing an increase of more than 110%.
“The significant number of new immigrants to Israel during the Iron Swords War and the tremendous increase in requests to open Aliyah files are an important demonstration of Zionism and a beautiful expression of solidarity with the country, providing us with a much-needed boost to our morale,” said Minister of Aliyah and Integration, Ofir Sofer. “Together with our partners at The Jewish Agency for Israel and Nefesh B’Nefesh, we are working to improve the absorption process by easing the bureaucracy as well as helping with Hebrew learning and job placements. We believe that full integration of the newcomers will contribute greatly to Israeli society and economic growth.”
In total, 3,020 individuals from North America made Aliyah in 2023. Two hundred of them landed in the last week of the year. Of the Olim who arrived with help from Nefesh B’Nefesh, there are 545 families, 616 children, 958 single men and women, and 432 retirees. They range in age from three months old, to 100 years old, with an average age of 32. Two hundred and thirty-one new Olim will serve as lone soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces as part of the FIDF-Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program, and 35 young women will be lone national service volunteers with the “Ori” Program.
“Something extraordinary is happening,” Marc Rosenberg, NBN’s VP of Diaspora Partnerships, said about the surprisingly high Aliyah applications. “As we are going through this trauma and hoping to come out stronger, people are choosing to be as close to the front lines as possible. There is this ideology of people wanting to be a part of this struggle.”
One of the responses to the Iron Swords War has been a tremendous sense of unity in Israel and among Jews in the diaspora, Rosenberg noted. He believes that this feeling is hitting a certain population of people who may have been interested in Aliyah, but now want to advance their plans. Rosenberg, however, recommends that people with sudden interest take the time to explore this complex decision.
“Anecdotally, we know that whenever there is a crisis, there is a peak in interest,” Rosenberg said. “It doesn’t always lead to an increase of people coming.” Historically, however, there have been increases in people making Aliyah in the aftermath of turmoil. The number of new Olim from North America spiked in 1967 after the Six-Day War and tripled by 1969, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. Another increase in Aliyah came in 2021 after the COVID pandemic, as people realized that remote work would make their Aliyah dreams easier.
“People are now feeling this urgency,” Rosenberg said. “But it doesn’t mean you have to move here tomorrow. It means you should do it right to make sure your Aliyah is a success.” Rosenberg noted that many of the new Aliyah applicants will start arriving this summer after they have had ample time to plan.
Summer is a great time to make Aliyah, especially for young people who are interested in studying in Israel. One thing that characterizes the demographic of individuals newly interested in Aliyah is that many are inquiring about higher education in Israel, according to Sarah Kantor, NBN’s Head of Marketing and Programming.
One of the great benefits of making Aliyah is the financial tuition assistance from The Student Authority operated through the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration. Olim are eligible for tuition grants that cover standard state tuition fees for the standard number of years per degree.
For young Zionists, this benefit has significant value. Not only is it a great way for people who hope to build a future in Israel to get ahead, but it also eliminates the enormous costs of higher education in the United States.
Israel has 61 higher education institutions, including 10 universities and 51 colleges, many of which are internationally ranked. In fact, three Israeli universities were recognized among the world’s top 100 in the 2023 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) by Shanghai Ranking Consultancy.
This is not just beneficial for Olim. Many Israeli universities see the value of having Olim on campus, Kantor said. Olim bring diversity and different backgrounds and knowledge, improving the education and experience for all students. Several universities such as Hebrew University, Betzalel Academy of Arts and Design, and the Jerusalem College of Technology are reserving spots specifically for Olim applicants.
“If you’re young and thinking about where you want to build your future, this is a great opportunity to lay a foundation,” Kantor said. “It’s a start for a long-term goal with all the networking and benefits that make it easier to be Israeli. If you’ve had Israel on your mind, this is an option worth exploring because there are genuinely good education options here.”
Kantor said this shift in interest has been fascinating. “We’re going through this trauma and the response is ‘We want to be there with you.’ That’s pretty amazing,” Kantor said. “Don’t make any rash decisions, though, set yourself up for a better life in Israel. Life here is different. It’s meaningful and it’s extremely dynamic.”
Newcomer Andrew Keene seems to agree. The Oleh from Washington D.C. who arrived on Dec. 28 said that the Iron Swords War only made him realize how important it was for him to make Aliyah. He had been planning his move to Israel since February. After the October 7th attack, he said he only second-guessed his decision for a moment.
“If I delay it, what am I delaying for?” he said. “I decided that it is an important time to be in Israel.” Keene, 28, is a freelance technology consultant now living in Tel Aviv.
Keene said one of the new challenges for Olim is balancing the joy of living in the Holy Land with the reality of the war and hostage situation. “On one hand, there are thousands of people running along the beach in the morning despite rockets and alarms, but on the other hand, there are small businesses and shops that are closed because staff are in reserve duty,” he said.
He hopes that the war doesn’t deter others who want to make a life in Israel. “I hope people make Aliyah because they are running toward something that is exciting to them,” he said.