The Hidden Aliyah Crisis
At first glance, the Aliyah figures for 2022 would appear to provide ample reason to rejoice. After just 28,601 immigrants arrived in Israel in 2021, the number who made the move last year more than doubled, surging to an astonishing 74,915, according to Jewish Agency statistics. That is the highest figure since 1999 and is nearly equivalent to the number of those who chose to make Israel their home in the previous three years combined. In addition to strengthening the country demographically, the growth in Aliyah naturally underlines Israel's role as the home for every Jew. But while the sizable increase in Aliyah is, of course, a welcome development, the fact is that when one takes a deeper look at the data, some extremely disturbing trends quickly become apparent. As has been widely reported, the bulk of last year's immigrants came from the countries of the former Soviet Union, due in large part to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, a whopping 62,569 immigrants arrived from the former Soviet states last year, constituting more than 83.5% of all Olim in 2022. This means that from the rest of the planet, a mere 12,346 immigrants made Aliyah – a paltry amount indeed. Still more troubling is that a significant drop in Aliyah was recorded on virtually every other continent outside of Asia. Take, for example, Western Europe, where mounting antisemitism and economic uncertainty should have laid the groundwork for a groundswell in Zionist fervor. Nonetheless, overall Aliyah from the continent was down 34% last year, with drops of 199% from Great Britain, 36% from Belgium and 31 % from Italy. France, home to the largest Jewish community in Western Europe, also saw a significant decline in Aliyah, which cratered by 42% last year, with barely 2,000 French Jews moving to Israel. North America witnessed- a hefty slump as well, with US Aliyah plummeting by 23% to just 3,261 souls. There were massive declines registered in the number of Olim arriving from Mexico, which fell by nearly half, while both Brazil and Venezuela saw drops of 30% and 29%, respectively. The latter is particularly astonishing, since Venezuela has been enduring a prolonged period of social and economic collapse under a harsh regime. And so, from Cannes to Caracas, and Boston to Barcelona, the appeal of Aliyah would appear to be at a low point. This is nothing less than a hidden Zionist crisis, one that cries out for attention and must be addressed. BUT IF that were not bad enough, there is yet another crisis within the crisis that is equally overlooked: the numbers of those who make Aliyah and then turn around and leave the country. While no finite statistics are readily available, various reports have indicated that as many as 30% to 40% of those who came on Aliyah from Russia went back after obtaining Israeli citizenship. As The Jerusalem Post reported on April 28, 2022, "Some 1,800 of the Russian Jews who immigrated to Israel over the last two months since the war began have returned to Russia with their new Israeli passports." That is 1,800 out of the 5,600 who had arrived within 60 days of the war's outbreak, or nearly one-third of the total. Presumably, most of them view an Israeli passport as a form of insurance, providing them with a fallback option should conditions in Russia continue to deteriorate. But whatever their reasons, this means that the Aliyah statistics are in some measure illusory, painting a picture that does not fully represent reality. Needless to say, while the government is quick to publish numbers about arrivals, you would be hard-pressed to find comprehensive data about those who leave. Anecdotally, it is well known that there are many thousands of other immigrants, be they American, Argentinian or French, who leave the country within several years of arrival. And yet, incredibly enough, little has been done to gather such figures, analyze the causes behind people's decisions to leave, or address such problems head on. This is a mistake of monumental proportions. In the world of business, a key metric is customer retention, which is the rate at which clients stay with a particular brand or company. Israel must also begin to devote more resources to Aliyah customer retention, with the aim of developing methods for ensuring that more immigrants who take the momentous step of moving here will remain. Obviously, more effort must be invested in absorbing immigrants and easing their integration. But we cannot, and must not, rely on the government alone. It is a fact of life that the private sector always does things better than the public sector, and the absorption of immigrants is no exception. If communities, synagogues and individuals make immigrant absorption a higher priority, more of those who come will stay, fewer will leave, and the message filtering back to their countries of origin will be much more positive and encouraging. So let's not be fooled by last year's headlines about record Aliyah or lulled into complacency. For everyone who cares about this country and recognizes how vital immigration is to its future, we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work, and do our part to tackle the Aliyah crisis before it worsens. Fundamentally Freund, By Michael Freund The writer is the founder and chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities to return to the Jewish people.