Even the darkest clouds can hide a silver lining and it may be that the COVID-19 pandemic may bring about the prophesied return of the exiles. Jewish Agency Chairman Yitzhak Herzog told Hebrew-language news site Makor Rishon on Thursday that he anticipated “a great wave of immigration to Israel when the coronavirus crisis ends, as has happened historically in Jewish communities around the world after many crises since the establishment of the state.”
Herzog, the former head of the left-wing Labor party, had data to back up his optimism. Ministry of Absorption officials reported that in the past few weeks, at least 60,000 Israelis currently living abroad expressed an interest in returning home to Israel. “There is an awakening among Israelis living abroad,” they said to the media.
For comparison, approximately 700 Jews make aliyah annually but in in the last month, over 500 people inquired about immigrating to Israel. This was attributed to the perception that Israel has a robust healthcare system that is effectively coping with the coronavirus outbreak. This is an especially significant factor in light of reports that the epidemic is expected to continue for an extended period of time.
Another thousand families are waiting to move from France to Israel. Before the outbreak of coronavirus, approximately 40,000 Jews opened files to make aliyah.
In 2019, about 35,000 people made aliyah and that number is expected to increase to 40,000 this year, not including returning Israelis. The Ministry of Absorption estimates 100,000 new arrivals will come to the Holy Land next year.
At the same time, contributions to the Jewish Agency have dropped and programs have been cut back.
Herzog called on the government to prepare financially for this wave of immigration.
“The coronavirus crisis is paralyzing the Jewish communities’ establishment, and the Jewish Agency is doing its best to help communities in need, through the emissaries in the field and also through a special loan fund we have set up with Keren Hayesod and JFNA to help them financially,” Herzog said.
“These communities regard Israel’s functioning in fighting the virus in the midst of a global crisis, and they see a robust, relatively well-functioning state,” Herzog said. “And I get a lot of reactions from around the world.”
Zev Gershinsky, executive vice-president of Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that helps Jews make aliyah from US, Canada, and England,
“Indeed, there has been movement in the Jewish communities since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, and the topic of aliyah has been contemplated by many.”
“In April alone, about 300 aliyah forms were submitted to the Nefesh B’Nefesh offices, and more than 400 people have begun the aliyah process,” Gershinsky said. “We are prepared for all possible scenarios and are able to accompany everyone who is interested: tens, hundreds, and thousands.”
Makor Rishon pointed out that unlike most countries who are closing their borders to immigrants during the pandemic, Israel is actively preparing for the return of its exiles.