The Aliyah Hype

Illustrative: Immigrants arriving in Israel at Ben-Gurion Airport (Photo: Nir Kafri/ The Jewish Agency for Israel)

If you had the foresight to move to Israel 30, 20 or even 10 years ago, you might be feeling pretty good about your decision right about now! Why, you may ask? Because, compared to today, back then it was a relatively simple and straightforward process. You basically arrived in Israel, got up really early in order to be the first in line at the Interior Ministry at 6 a.m., even though it meant standing outside for two hours before they opened up.

The requested documentation, at your brief interview, included anything proving you were Jewish – your marriage certificate or that of your parents, burial plots at a Jewish cemetery or whatever could link you to having been born of Jewish parents or grandparents. In those days, a rabbinical letter was not a pre-requisite nor were you asked to produce a criminal background check. The entire process took two visits within the span of six weeks. At your second visit, you were handed your teudat zehoot (identity card) and teudat oleh (immigrant certificate status, entitling you to a host of benefits).

That simple system, which worked well since the inception of the Jewish State, changed radically, causing a prospective immigrant to have to go through a myriad of hoops, wait months and go through a middle-man, the Jewish Agency or its organizational arm, Nefesh b’Nefesh which made an FBI background check look like child’s play.

It’s sad to say, but after having heard many horror stories, this middle-man investigative process can only be described as over-the-top invasive into one’s personal privacy, with the intention of finding whatever is possible to disqualify those who, under the Law of Return, are, unquestionably, entitled to immigrate to Israel. Those individuals include the child of two Jews, a Jewish parent or at least one Jewish grandparent.

This is only one dimension of the intricately complex web of the process of Aliyah after the year 2015. Once the 2020 COVID era entered the picture, that web got even more tangled and twisted. Although flights were still incoming into Israel, very few were carrying new immigrants. In fact, no one seemed to be speaking about or promoting Aliyah at all, and this was particularly surprising at a time when some rabid anti-Semites were starting absurd rumors that COVID-19 was a Jewish plot perpetrated on the mostly non-Jewish world.

In March and May 2020, two prominent Israeli news sites, Times of Israel and Ha’aretz, ran articles, respectively, concerning the conspiracy theory that “Jews created virus spreads on social media” and that “Jews control Chinese labs that created Coronavirus.”

This was followed by more virulent anti-Semitic attacks in May, 2021, throughout the world, when Israel found herself being relentlessly attacked by Hamas rockets day and night for weeks on end. Between the great uncertainty of a global pandemic, which caused an economic upheaval and loss of jobs, it’s likely that thousands of Jews, especially in the U.S. were adversely affected. Couple that with the Jewish libel that was making its way around the Internet, and you had a recipe for a great deal of fear and concern among Jews who, probably, never considered immigrating to their ancestral homeland.

Yet, as a rising number of inquiries and applications were being received by the Jewish Agency offices throughout the world, serious applicants were being forced to endure protracted wait times and repeated requests for hard-to-secure additional proofs of Jewish identity, on top of what had already been adequately provided. Constantly met with delay upon delay, these individuals were experiencing something which had never occurred throughout the 73-year course of the Jewish nation’s existence.  Of course, no one really understood why these glitches were occurring or when final approval would be granted for citizenship to a significant number of qualified immigrants who desperately wanted to arrive at our shores.

Steve Rodan, a Times of Israel blogger wrote about this very dilemma in his May 28, 2021 article entitled, “Israel’s White Paper? US Jews Find Locked Doors.” He stated, “Over the last year, Israel has essentially suspended the Law of Return and that Aliyah, particularly from the US, has never been lower while American Jewish applications have never been higher.” He further said, “In June 2020, the Jewish Agency predicted that 50,000 Jews overall would resettle in Israel.  Instead, only 20,000 were reported to have been allowed in the country. Jews who applied under the Law of Return were told to wait and wait for a decision by the Israeli government. Last spring, the drop in Aliyah reached 70 percent, compared to the same period in the previous year.”

So given the stark absence of any interest or discussion of Aliyah, how odd it was to find several articles on the subject, just within the past few days!  The first article was written on October 8, 2021 by Ya’acov HaGoel, Chairman of the World Zionist Congress who enthusiastically spoke about the importance of not only helping new immigrants already here, but also took the opportunity to extend an invitation to all world Jewry to finally come home. The second article appeared on the front page of the Jerusalem Post on October 10, 2021, touting that Aliyah this year is up by 31% compared to figures for 2020. A third article, also appearing in the Jerusalem Post on October 10, 2021 was written by Helena Baker, detailing her own very positive recent Aliyah experience. All of these articles are obviously meant to coincide with this week’s Aliyah Day on October 13th, celebrating all immigrants to Israel – which brings me to the dubious title of this article, “The Aliyah Hype.”

As a passionate Zionist and strong proponent of Aliyah, I believe that the subject is being hyped, at this time, in order to check off a box rather than to promote our spiritual destiny of returning as exiles to our homeland. I would go one step further by saying that there doesn’t seem to be any clear urgency among those who have the ability to ease the process and speed up the wait, because they understand the perilous times in which we live. If they would, that 31% increase of new immigrants might actually be a 300% increase if not more. So it’s looking more and more as if the dream of coming home is currently wrapped up in bureaucracy, red tape and, possibly, political and religious calculations.

If I am correct, then it is my contention that we have, sadly, lost our raison d’etre, which was always to provide a refuge to all Jews, especially during a time when they were most vulnerable. The sudden hype surrounding the topic of Aliyah, must not be inflated for merely one week, due to an annual upcoming celebration. The stymied process must be carefully examined in order to adopt a much speedier and efficient system which will allow any Jews who desire to return as quickly as they want. The burdensome and endless paperwork must also be ended so that those who do qualify under the Law of Return may do so easily.  Anything short of this will end up as a once a year Aliyah hype which will lack all meaning and sincerity in the effort to bring our people home!

The original article appeared on Oct. 11, 2021 on the Times of Israel personal blog of Cookie Schwaeber-Issan and has been granted permission for re-publication.