January 12, 2024
Will Israel-Hamas war cause a spike in aliyah for 2024? - opinion
By Barbara Sofer
Daphne Lazar Price, 50, didn’t think she and her husband, David, would be empty nesters so early. Google her, and you’ll see that her bio says she “lives with her husband and two daughters in Silver Springs, Maryland.”
Not anymore. As of a month ago, both of their daughters decided to make Israel their home, not waiting for Mom and Dad. Eyden, 19, gave up the chance to study at the prestigious University of Toronto to join the IDF. Sarina, 16, left the well-respected Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Maryland, to study at Israel’s Na’aleh Elite Academy.
Is the Price family the exception, or will 2024 become a bumper year for aliyah, particularly for youth aliyah? Thousands of young Jews made aliyah from the US, the UK, Canada, France, and South Africa after the Six Day War. But that war was over in less than a week and ended with a decisive stunning victory that inspired Jewish pride. Jews behind the Iron Curtain woke up to their identity, and the glorious mass immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union began, propelling Israel toward becoming the Start-Up Nation.
Will 2024 see a new surge in aliyah?
I recently sat in synagogue with a woman from Oakland, California, who said she feels right in Israel and not back at home. Her city council and teachers union passed pro-Palestinian resolutions. “I feel better in Israel,” she told me. Later, at a kiddush, a religiously observant student from London said he wouldn’t dare wear a kippah on campus. He has a year and a half to go, and then he’ll be back in Israel to make aliyah and join the IDF. He wants to be a diplomat. We can use him.
The statistics are hard to read. Aliyah from America, France, Great Britain, and South Africa slowed in the months before the war in comparison to 2022, but that was a year after the coronavirus restrictions ended. According to a report in The Jerusalem Post by editor-in-chief Zvika Klein, Aliyah and Integration Minister Ofir Sofer (no relation to me) said there was a “striking rise in the number of people exploring the possibility of immigration to Israel, with a 149% increase in France and an 81% increase in North America.”
The rise in antisemitism [worldwide] is, of course, one reason to consider moving to Israel. Jewish families may be rethinking the aura of the Ivy League and its expense when Israeli universities provide superb education. I was a student at the University of Pennsylvania in the golden era of Jews in American education. The old quotas for Jews were past history, and Jewish students made up a third of the student body – visible campus leaders wearing Jewish stars and kippot.
Even 25 years after graduating, I attended a class reunion and felt a little guilty that my own children – in the IDF and National Service at the time – would never have the relaxed pose and jauntiness of the students lying on the grass and philosophizing in front of the gray-stoned student center, Houston Hall. The posters on the high-rise stairwells advertising Zionist events were aimed at Jewish students walking up and down the stairs on Shabbat. By the time my children reached university, they were older and busier than their peers abroad. They were definitely less jaunty and relaxed.
BUT HOW comfortable can Jewish students be today? The same Houston Hall, America’s first student union building, dating to 1896, was occupied this year by students who opened a so-called Freedom School for Palestinians. My husband’s alma mater, MIT, threatened to suspend students who took part in an unauthorized “die-in” but then backed down. Now I’m glad that my children have degrees from Israeli universities.
But like the olim who came after the Six Day War, don’t come to Israel only because of antisemitism but because you want to be part of what my British-immigrant friend Madelaine Black so aptly calls the “Restart-Up Nation,” the country we have now after the horrific events of October 7 and while this tough war is still going on. Inspiration can come from the heroic soldiers, the generous citizenry volunteering in so many creative ways, and yes, the many solidarity missions that reinforce our spirit and resilience. Said a friend from Philadelphia who came on a solidarity mission recently: “People kept asking me if I didn’t realize there’s a war going on in Israel. I told them I know there is war, and that’s why I’m going.”
Says Sarina Price, the 16-year-old from Maryland now living and studying at the Ayanot Youth Village in central Israel near Nes Ziona: “I have kids from such cool places in my class. The 20 of us come from Switzerland, Germany, Cyprus, Italy, Japan, Canada, and Thailand, as well as the USA.”
The educational system, with its structured, matriculation exam-dominated curriculum, is different from what she’s used to, but she’s adjusting, she says. When she finishes, she says she’s planning to go directly into National Service or the IDF.
What about her teen friends back home? “They’re happy that I’m happy. Of course, I miss my parents, but my friends plus Israeli cousins have become my family.”
Her older sister, Eyden, spent her gap year after high school at Midreshet Harova, a Religious Zionist seminary in Jerusalem’s Old City. Several other young women in her class have also made aliyah. Eydan wants to be a dental assistant in the IDF and to study dentistry in Israel.
The Price sisters’ decisions didn’t come in a vacuum. They went to Zionist schools. They’ve visited Israel often with their families. Canadian-born Daphne Lazer Price is a Jewish communal leader, serving as the executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), founded by Rabbanit Blu Greenberg. David Price works in hi-tech.
Their daughters are leading the way. “We always had aliya in mind, but now we’ll push it up,” says Daphne Lazar Price. “We have aging parents in North America and have to take that into consideration. But like so many Jews, we’re rethinking staying in the United States. We’re missing our girls terribly, but it balances out because I know they are where they want to be, living their best Jewish lives. David and I are proud of them.”