The story of Jewish immigration to the State of Israel (“Aliyah” in Hebrew) is unparalleled in history. When Israel declared independence in 1948, its Jewish population numbered 650,000; within three and a half years this number more than doubled by a huge influx of 690,000 immigrants. From 1948 to today, more than 3.5 million Jews immigrated to Israel.
For thousands of years Jews living in all corners of the globe dreamed of returning to their national homeland, and when the opportunity arose, they responded – albeit in varying degree. Broadly speaking, Jews living in Arab countries left en masse, while Jews from more democratic countries immigrated in smaller numbers.
Jews from North America tend to immigrate to Israel more for religious or ideological reasons, and less for financial or security ones. During the early decades of Israel’s existence a few thousand North American Jews immigrated and stayed, but this number leaped following the Six-Day-War. Between 1967 and 1973, 60,000 North American Jews immigrated to Israel.
Today, an organization called Nefesh B’Nefesh promotes Aliyah from English-speaking countries by providing financial assistance, employment services and streamlined governmental procedures. Their flagship events are charter flights full of immigrants (Olim) every summer, which are greeted by IDF soldiers, friends, and family, and are widely broadcast in Israeli media.
Aliyah has always been a big deal in Israel, and from the early days of the State, Israelis would ask Jews the world over – Nu, so when are you coming?
A month after the Six-Day-War, a well-known David writes to a lesser-known Ruth:
“Our country was built by three generations of pioneers, and it is not yet finished – it is only a beginning. We must get a large immigration from the free countries, mainly from the United States, to take part in its building – it will take at least another generation or more.
“When are you coming to Israel?”