Imagine you are living in a land where you must tuck away your kippah or Magen David necklace in public in fear of putting your life in danger, simply because of who you are. This has been an unfortunate reality of the Jewish narrative. Despite establishing successful lives for themselves in foreign nations, many Jews in the diaspora have grown tired of the adversity and discrimination they face on a daily basis, and have thus chosen to make aliyah.
Aliyah is the Hebrew word for “ascent,” and it refers to the act of immigrating to Israel. According to the Talmud, when one is in the Holy Land of Israel, one becomes elevated spiritually. It is said to be from this reference that anyone who makes aliyah is “ascending” because they are closer to G-d.
Throughout history Jews have constantly attempted to be socially accepted by various nations. Despite their many efforts, Jews have repeatedly been rejected and discriminated against. This highlights the necessity of maintaining a Jewish state where Jews may live freely and away from discrimination. The recent rise in anti-Semitic attacks, such as the shooting at the Hyper Cacher market in the heart of France’s Jewish community, reinforces the necessity of the safe haven Israel provides.
Israel is often referred to as the “land of milk and honey,” a land of promise, fruitfulness, and new beginnings. This is the hope many immigrants are motivated by when moving to Israel.
According to Anita Shapira’s book, Israel: A History, when the establishment of Israel was declared in 1948, there were only 806,000 residents.Today, Israel is a bountiful nation of 8.059 million people of a colorful array of various nationalities from all over the globe. According to the Jewish Agency for Israel, over 20,000 Jews made aliyah in 2010. Roughly eight percent “ascended” from Ethiopia, 37 percent from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, eight percent from Latin America, 14 percent from Europe and the Middle East, and 26 percent from North American and other English-speaking countries.
Aliyah trends have evolved over the years. Groups and individuals have made aliyah for varying reasons and at different times — many for reasons relating to anti-Semitism, but others for religious and nationalist purposes.
The First Aliyah, also referred to as the Farmer’s Aliyah, began in 1882 and continued until 1903, mainly consisting of Yemenite and Russian Jews. According to the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, the Yemenite aliyah was motivated by “messianic expectations,” while the Russian one was a result of nationalism. Within this aliyah were two waves. The first was due to violence and pogroms, and the second was “a result of anti-Jewish legislation and the expulsion of Jews from Moscow.” Although the land was then Ottoman-owned Palestine, these Zionist Jewish immigrants were the pioneers of the nation building of Israel, and paved the way for Jewish settlements in Israel.
Aliyah movements continued in the same vein up until 1948. After the Holocaust, a number of German and Italian survivors, known as “Displaced Jews” came to Israel. According to Ynet News, nearly 250,000 immigrants made aliyah in 1949 — the largest number recorded to date. Beginning in 1948, Jews from Arab lands immigrated to the land of milk and honey.
The second half of the 20th century also brought about a large influx of Jews into Israel. Ethiopian aliyah began in the mid-1970s. Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, about 30,000 Iranian Jews made aliyah. Latin American aliyah came about primarily from the 1999 Argentine political and economic crisis, prompting 10,000 Argentine Jews to move. The beginning of the 21st century prompted about 9,000 Venezuelan Jews to leave for Israel as a result of growing anti-Semitism.
Today there are still those who are making aliyah for their own safety —as seen with the question of French emigration. According to Israel National News, France leads the way, marking the highest aliyah figures in a decade.
However, aliyah trends also indicate Jewish immigration to Israel is a product of choice rather than necessity. Take American aliyah, for instance. Despite being a democratic country with religious tolerance, almost 20 percent of aliyah in 2010 came from North America, and 2014 saw a seven percent increase in American aliyah. Interestingly, despite the terror being inflicted on Israel by Hamas this past summer, there was a 32 percent increase of people making aliyah over last year — around 26,500 new immigrants arrived in Israel.
One may ponder, why would someone leading a comfortable and free life as a Jew in the United States abandon all they know and move to the Middle East, in the midst of chaos and a Starbucks deficiency? For many, the answer is simple — Israel is the ultimate homeland of the Jewish people, the land to which the Jewish people have been longing to return to for 2,000 years, the Middle East’s tiny slice of heaven.
An imperative reason people make aliyah is the strong desire to maintain the Jewish identity, in spite of the efforts of various foreign nations to assimilate or eradicate Judaism. According to the Jewish Agency for Israel, today there are reported to be 14.2 million Jewish people in the world, and 43 percent of them reside in Israel. However, the Jews who make aliyah are not only establishing an integral connection to their past at the individual level, but also contributing to the future of the Jewish people. Jews living in Israel help secure the foundation and longevity of Israel.