The annual celebration is held to commemorate immigration as a core value of the Jewish State by honoring ongoing contributions of those who chose to come live in Israel.
By Erin Viner
“Aliyah,” the Hebrew word for “immigration,” has the dual meaning of “ascent.”
In Judaism, Aliyah denotes the ‘ascension of one’s soul through special deeds, including relocation to Israel or even by visiting the holy city of Jerusalem. “Olim,” the word for “immigrants,” also refers to those who have raised their souls by coming to live in the Holy Land.
In 2016, the Knesset approved the Yom HaAliyah (Immigration Day) Act to create an annual tribute celebrated on the 7th of Cheshvan according to the Hebrew calendar. The date coincides with the Torah portion of Lech Lecha, in which God commands Abraham to go to the Land of Israel. The aim of the national holiday is to celebrate the development of Israel as a multicultural society and emphasize the importance of Aliyah to Israel.
Upon declaring “Aliyah Week 2021” this past Sunday, Minister of Aliyah and Integration Pnina Tamano-Shata noted that more than 3,340,000 immigrants have come to Israel since its founding in 1948.
Minister Tamano-Shata is herself an immigrant to the country, having been born in Ethiopia. The attorney, journalist and politician not only became the first Ethiopian-born woman to be elected to the Knesset in 2013, but also the first Ethiopian-born minister in the history of the state.
“I work in the government to ensure Aliyah does not stop for a moment – also during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns – because Aliyah is the realization of the Zionist dream,” she said, pledging that her Ministry “will continue to work to assist olim in the Aliyah and integration process in Israel.”
So far this year, 20,360 people have come to Israel, marking an astonishing 31% rise over 2020 when just 15,598 arrived during the same time period.
“I’m moved by each and every Aliyah flight. Despite the challenging period and many limitations brought on by the global pandemic, since the beginning of the year, there’s been a significant increase in olim in comparison to a similar period last year. Olim from across the globe chose to come and build their future in Israel,” commented Acting Chairman of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization Chairman Yaakov Hagoel in a government press release. “These olim are a strategic asset to the State of Israel and contribute to every aspect of life. We all must contribute to their integration. We are strengthened by each oleh who comes to Israel,” he added.
Jewish Agency data shows that 5,075 people from Russia were the largest group (paradoxically marking a 5% decrease from last year). 3,104 came from the United States (41% increase), 2,819 came from France (55% increase), 2,123 from Ukraine (4% increase), 780 from Belarus (69% increase), 633 from Argentina (46% increase), 490 from the United Kingdom (20% increase), 438 from Brazil (4% increase) and 373 from South Africa (56% increase). 1,589 were brought from Ethiopia (compared to just 285 immigrants the previous year) during the Operation Tzur led by the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration and The Jewish Agency, aimed at reuniting families after decades of being apart.
Most of the new immigrants are young. More than 50% this year were under 35, while 23.4% were aged between birth and 17, 33.4% were 18-35. Those aged between 36 to 50 comprised 16.3%, 13% were between 51 and 64, while 13.9% were 65 and older.
As for employment, 17.3% of the immigrants work in the service and commerce industries, 6.1% in humanities and social sciences, 5.2% in technology and engineering, 4.2% in medicine, 3.6% in accounting and legal services and 2.7% in education.
Jerusalem was the most popular destination, with 2,184 of the 2021 immigrants choosing the capital to put down roots. 2,122 others moved to Tel Aviv, 2,031 to Netanya, 1,410 to Haifa and 744 to Ashdod. Between 600 to 700 others moved to the cities of Ra’anana, Beit Shemesh, Nahariya, Beer Sheva and Bat Yam.
Several events are being held to salute the new immigrants throughout this week.
Ceremonies included the second presentation of special awards at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to those who have made exceptional contributions to Israeli society. This year’s honorees were distinguished in the fields of society and community, medicine, care and welfare, art, science, engineering and sport.
“This year’s prize winners, each in his or her own field, are inspiring and serve as proof of the important contribution of aliyah to the flourishing and success of our country in all walks of life,” said Minister Tamano-Shata, who made the presentation alongside President Isaac Herzog.
“Sometimes the State of Israel looks like an archaeological mound, built layer by layer with waves of aliyah: from the first waves of immigration through clandestine campaigns during the British Mandate period and further waves of immigration to the State of Israel from all around the world,” observed President Herzog, adding, “Each layer of immigration is built on top of another; each layer of immigration adds height and richness to the one before it. The most recent layer is the impressive, some might say extraordinary, wave of thousands of immigrants at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.”
After thanking Minister Tamano-Shata for her leadership and taking the Aliyah and Integration Ministry “to new heights,” President Herzog remarked that her own “personal story is a model for all of us, a model of determination, Zionism, a sense of mission, and love of your people, land, and state.”
Hailing this year’s honorees, Herzog said “it is a privilege for the State of Israel to have you. It is a privilege for all of us to have you. It is so good that you have come home. It is so good that you have made this house even more beautiful.”
The Israeli leader added, “It is too late to wish you success – because you have already succeeded – so I shall only say that I hope you continue to see blessings through your work and may we all be blessed through you.”