In aliyah this year (and every year), push is stronger than pull

New immigrants to Israel stepping out of the plane at Ben Gurion Airport. (Courtesy Nefesh B'Nefesh)

New immigrants to Israel stepping out of the plane at Ben Gurion Airport. (Courtesy Nefesh B’Nefesh)

France leads immigration to Israel. Ukrainian immigration doubles.

Surprise, surprise. Not.

Aliyah to Israel jumped 28 percent in the past Jewish year, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, for a total of 24,800 — the highest figure in five years. And driving the increase are Jews who are dying to get out of their home countries — or, in some cases, getting out so they don’t die.

Taken together, the 6,000 Jews from France and the 4,200 from Ukraine make up more than a third of all immigrants to Israel. North American aliyah, meanwhile, stayed in the mid 3,000s, where it’s been for the past several years.

To put that in perspective, about 1 percent of French Jews and a whopping 6 percent of Ukrainian Jews immigrated to Israel this year — but only 0.06 percent of U.S. Jews made the move.

This is no shock. Israel’s Jewish population has subsisted on aliyah since the country’s birth, but most of those immigrants have been motivated by what are called “push factors,” or conditions that drive them out of their home countries. And even though Israel’s economy and infrastructure have improved in recent decades, “pull factors,” or conditions in Israel that attract immigrants, still aren’t as strong.

Israel’s three mass immigrations — from the Middle East in the 1940s and 1950s, from the Soviet Union in the 1980s and 1990s and from Ethiopia at the same time — all came due to push factors, a combination of persecution and poverty.

Ukraine and France also saw push factors. France’s economy is relatively strong, but increasingly violent anti-Semitism, which peaked during this summer’s war in Gaza, has driven more and more French Jews across the Mediterranean to Tel Aviv, Netanya and Ashdod. Ukrainian Jews, like all Ukrainians, have lived with war on their eastern border for the better part of a year.

But in the U.S., life is pretty good, and moving across an ocean isn’t so easy. Insulated from phenomena like French anti-Semitism or pro-Russian separatism, America’s Jewish leaders tend to worry more about assimilation than physical dangers. As long as those trends continue, expect Europe to keep posting higher numbers.

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