Return of the Exiles

POLAND

A group of Polish children waiting to board the train at the Atlit railway station. 1943. (Zoltan Kluger)

Religious Jews began returning to Israel from Poland in small groups in the late 1700s, with the purpose of preparing the Land of Israel for the final redemption. Most were students of Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna and Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch.

From the late 1800s until 1914 (the beginning of World War I) the Jews returning from Poland were motivated to escape the bloody pogroms and wars in Eastern Europe and by the Zionist ideals of farming, building, and settling the Holy Land.

The Zionist-inspired Aliyah from Poland resumed after World War One up until 1939, the beginning of World War Two. Tens of thousands of Jews came from Poland during that time, broadening agricultural development in the Land.

The last wave of Aliyah from Poland came after World War Two, comprised of Holocaust survivors and war refugees.

Interestingly, Poland was the only country in the post-war Eastern Bloc (USSR allies) that allowed Jews to leave for pre-state Israel without visas or exit permits.

IRAQ

Immigrants from Iraq and Kurdistan, arriving at the Lod airport from Teheran. 1951. (Teddy Brauner)

There has been a continuous Jewish presence in Iraq (formerly known as Babylon) for over 2,600 years since before the destruction of the First Temple:

“He [Nebuchadnezzar] deported Yehoyachin to Babylon; and the king’s wives and officers and the notables of the land were brought as exiles from Jerusalem to Babylon.”
(2 Kings 26:15)

The first significant waves of return to Israel were led over 70 years later by Zerubavel, Ezra and then Nehemiah (see Ezra and Nehemiah, 2:1-2, 7:1-9, 2:7-11).

While many Jews returned to Israel to build the Second Temple, the Jewish community in Iraq remained strong. For the next 2,500 years, brave individuals and families made the dangerous trip back home to the Land of Israel, while the majority remained in Iraq.

The first notable return of Iraqi Jews in modern times occurred in the 1920s and 30s, between the two World Wars, with only a few thousand or more coming back.

But after Israel declared independence in 1948, the Iraqi government became more hostile to its Jewish citizens, and Iraqi Jews began returning to the Holy Land en masse.

In response, the State of Israel ran Operation Ezra and Nechemiah in 1951 and 1952, airlifting around 125,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel through Iran and Cyprus.

Only 6,000 Jews remained in Iraq after this operation, and as of March 2021, only three elderly Jews were known to be left in Iraq.

ETHIOPIA

New Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia land at Ben Gurion Airport. 2013. (Kobi Gideon)

Also known as “Beta Israel” or “Falashas,” the Ethiopian Jews claim descent from the Biblical Tribe of Dan. Their ancestors were exiled from the Land of Israel by the Assyrians around 2,600 years ago.

This claim of descent from the Tribe of Dan was accepted by Rabbinic leaders in the 1970’s.

While in Ethiopia, the “Beta Israel” maintained a separate identity from other Ethiopians and even maintained their own religious observances and social structure. They had a tradition that they would one day return to the Land of Israel and worship God at the Third Temple. This was commemorated every year at their Sigd festival, which many Ethiopian Jews continue to observe every winter in Jerusalem.

A number of individual Ethiopian Jews made their way to Israel from the 1930s to the 70s, but the community began moving to Israel en masse in the 80s.

The first emergency airlift operation, Operation Moses, in 1984, was followed by the smaller Operation Joshua in 1985. These operations saved around 8,000 Ethiopian Jews from the civil war and famine at the time. Operation Solomon was even bigger, bringing 14,324 Jews to Israel in 1991.

To this day, the Israeli government continues to bring groups of Ethiopian Jews to Israel through Operation Tzur, with the goal of uniting families.

RUSSIA

Soviet immigrants alighting at Ben Gurion airport from Transair direct flight to Israel. 1991 . (Tzvika Yisraeli)

Jews suffered severe persecutions in Russia between the glory days of the Russian Empire in the 1700s until the end of Communism in 1989.

During most of those 250 years, only a handful of Jews managed to leave the Russian Empire and reach the Land of Israel.

The pogroms of the late 1800s, however, prompted large numbers of Jews to move to Israel, where they played a critical role in building up Jewish settlements and agriculture in the early 20th century.

World War One and the western-financed Communist Revolution towards the end of the war changed the landscape for Russian Jewry. Some Jews, seeing the writing on the wall, managed to escape to Israel, but most escapees only made it as far as Europe.

After taking full control of Russia, Communist leaders continued the Czarist persecution of the Jewish population, but with a new twist. Instead of trying to convert the Jews, they simply suppressed Jewish religion and culture, and refused to allow most Jews to emigrate.

Between the 1950s and 1980s, only small groups of Jews were allowed to leave the USSR and move to Israel. After the final collapse of the USSR in 1989, over 1 million Russian Jews made Aliyah, where they now make up about 15% of Israel’s total population.

In this initial wave, the highly educated Russian Jews brought with them expertise in medicine, science, technology, music, economics and mathematics, which boosted Israel’s profile in those areas.

The majority of the immigrant wave were European Jews; however, a significant proportion were Jewish groups from Russian-speaking Muslim republics of the former USSR. These included Mountain Jews from Azerbaijan, Georgian Jews, and Bukharian Jews – with each group adding its own distinctive culture to the Israeli mix.

The Russian Jewish community’s arrival in Israel also spurred a significant religious awakening and return to Torah observance among some groups of Russian Jews. Three generations of religious repression in the USSR did not destroy the spirit of Jewish people. In fact, even many non-Jewish descendants of Jews converted to Judaism after arriving in Israel.

SOUTH AFRICA

Hebrew teacher Shmuel Kruglak with Naomi Sternberg from South Africa at Ulpan Akiva at Nathania. 1963. (Moshe Pridan)

Home to one of the world’s most Zionistic Jewish communities, the first South Africans to make Aliyah were a group of 35 individuals in 1906. Since then, groups of South African Jews have consistently returned home, year after year.

With the end of apartheid and the gross mismanagement of the South African economy, many families, elders, and singles have moved to Israel. Families come to find work and to live in a safe and supportive Jewish environment. Elders come to retire and live near their children and grandchildren.

Due to government policies favoring native Africans, young South African Jews often have difficulty gaining admittance to universities and struggle to find jobs – leading many of them to seek a brighter financial and spiritual future in Israel.

As the political, economic, social, and security conditions in South Africa have worsened, record numbers of Jews have been making Aliyah. In 2021, a record 555 South African Jews made Aliyah, the highest per capita migration in South African history. Many more are expected in the coming years.

IRAN

Young immigrants, newly arrived from Iran, sitting outside the absorption center in Yavne. 1979. (Moshe Milner)

Jews have lived in Iran since members of the exiled Ten Tribes ended up there as slaves and migrants. The Jews arrived in Iran in comfort after Persians conquered the Babylonians in Biblical times (see Daniel 5:30, 6:1). Not long after that, the miracle of Purim happened, featuring Esther and Mordechai.

Between then and the mid 20th-century, there were always individuals who made their way back to the Land of Israel, but never in large numbers. The founding of the State of Israel in 1948 changed that.

Of the approximately 145,000 Jews in Iran, it is estimated that around half, or 70,000 Iranian Jews immigrated to Israel between 1948 and 1978. Unlike other Muslim countries, Iran interestingly never expelled its Jews, like due to the because the Westernized and secular character of the Persian monarchy.
The Islamic Revolution in 1979 gave Iranian Jews more good economic and religious reasons to leave. During and after the Revolution, an additional 20,000 Iranian Jews moved to Israel. The Islamic Republic is virulently anti-Israel and bars Iranian Jews visiting or moving to Israel.

The number of Persian Jews currently living in Israel is believed to be around 225,000.

 

UKRAINE

13 year old girl from Ashkelon who was born in the Ukraine. 1960. (No Credit)

As was the case with Russia and Poland, many Jews from Ukraine moved to Israel in the early twentieth century due to frequent pogroms and wars that plagued the community. At that time, America was a far more attractive destination with greater economic opportunity, but many religious and Zionistic Jews followed their hearts to the Land of Israel.

Once the Communists took over Ukraine, Jewish life was suppressed for over sixty years. Huge numbers of Jews fled the USSR’s when the Iron Curtain fell in 1991.

Since then, there has been a consistent Aliyah from Ukraine, with notable spikes. The first spike was during the 2014 war with Russia. That year almost 6,000 Ukranians moved to Israel.

Since the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the State of Israel has absorbed about 24,000 Ukrainian refugees. Most of the Jews who returned to the Land were women and children, since men were prohibited from leaving Ukraine.

The future of Ukrainian Jewish Aliyah to Israel is still up in the air.

Israel365 had the merit to be actively involved in saving Ukranian Jews during the war, and continues to financially support Ukrainian refugees here in Israel.

Israel365’s Ukraine 2022 War Response
Supporting Ukrainian Refugees
Giving Gifts to Ukrainian Orphans with Israel365’s Josh Wander and Bridges for Peace
Buying and Distributing Brand New Appliances for Ukrainian Immigrants in Israel

GERMANY

Children, holocaust survivors, on board the refugee ship “Mataroa” in the Haifa port. 1945. (Zoltan Kluger)

Before Hitler came to power in 1933, German Jews had been living a very comfortable life in Germany. The last substantial anti-semitic violence had been the brutal Crusader pogroms approximately 850 years before.

Historically, German Jews were more likely to migrate west to France or east into Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and Lithuanian than to risk their lives to travel to Israel.

After Hitler came to power the whole picture changed.

Beginning in 1933, when Hitler came to power, 60,000 German Jews, including intellectuals, artists, architects, scientists, and business owners, made Aliyah. Many settled in Tel Aviv, where they laid the foundations for Israeli academia, arts, science, and business. While adjusting to Israel was a social and financial struggle, the move to Israel ultimately saved these Jews from near certain death in the Holocaust.

After the war, a wave of Holocaust survivors arrived in Israel, many of whom had to be smuggled across the border due to the British government’s excessive restrictions on Jewish immigration. Many Holocaust survivors fought and died during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

The influence of German Jews is still seen and felt in Israel, mostly in the architecture of Tel Aviv and the German Jewish communities in Jerusalem.

Burma

Reception ceremony for new immigrants, members of the Menashe tribe from India, at the Ben Gurion airport. In the photo, new immigrants are welcomed by their relatives. 2006. (Moshe Milner)

The Bnei Menashe, or “Children of Manasseh,” are a community of Jews who claim descent from the lost tribe of Menashe. After assimilating into Asiaitic idolatrous tribes over 2,500 years ago, many adopted Christianity from Welch missionaries in the 1900s.

In the 1990s, the Bnei Menashe were discovered by researchers of the 10 Lost Tribes. Their interest in connecting back with their Biblical roots led many of them to convert to normative Judaism and make Aliyah.

Today there are 5,200 Bnei Menashe in Israel, with another 5,000 still in Burma and India, preparing for the Israeli government to authorize their legal return home.

The Bnei Menashe have a great love for the Land of Israel, and the majority of them move to villages and towns in Judea and Samaria.

 

FRANCE

A welcoming ceremony to new immigrants from France, at Ben Gurion airport. In the photo, new immigrants shortly after arriving to Israel. 2004. (Moshe Milner)

Jews have lived in France since at least Roman times. The first group of French Jews to return to Israel came almost a thousand years ago, in 1211 C.E. Known as the “300 Rabbis,” the group consisted of 300 Rabbis from England and France who traveled by foot to the Holy Land. Unlike the Crusaders, these Rabbis and their families traveled in peace to settle in the Land, not to conquer it.

Generations later, 25% of the French Jewish population was murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. There was some post-Holocaust Aliyah, but it wasn’t substantial.

In the 1950s and 60s, France’s Jewish population permanently changed with the influx of 235,000 Jewish refugees from North African countries that had been colonies of France. Hundreds of thousands more North African Arab refugees also flooded into France, bringing the Jewish-Arab dynamic into Europe for the first time since medieval Spain.

The tension in France began to boil over in early 2000s, with a sharp increase in violent antisemitism. This dangerous trend has threatened the Jewish community for the last twenty years and led to the brutal murders of Holocaust survivors and Jewish children. Responding to these horrors, tens of thousands of French Jews have chosen to make Aliyah. Thousands more have bought homes in Israel, with plans to ultimately make Aliyah in the future.

As many as 250,000 French Jews are expected to move to Israel by 2030. The majority of French Jews who move to Israel are young, educated, from North African communities, and are religiously affiliated.

French Jews tend to settle in the Israeli cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Netanya, where they have established vibrant communities and French-style cafes and bakeries. When Jews come back to Israel, they bring the good stuff with them!

USA

A reception ceremony for new immigrants from the United States who made ‘Aliyah’ with the help of ‘Nefesh B’Nefesh’ and the Jewish Agency for Israel, at Ben Gurion airport in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 2009. (Moshe Milner)

Though the majority of American Jews rallied to the Zionist cause upon the establishment of the State of Israel, the first major wave of American Aliyah only took place in the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel dramaitcally gained control of the Temple Mount, Judea and Samaria.

This surge quickly petered off after the morale-breaking 1973 Yom Kippur War, and didn’t restart until the early 2000’s. This new surge in Aliyah was facilitated through a non-profit organization called Nefesh B’Nefesh.

The founders of Nefesh B’Nefesh found a way to promote Aliyah to the new generation of mostly religious singles and young families. They simplified the Israeli bureaucratic process, provided financial and employment support, and chartered airplanes to Israel. Nefesh B’Nefesh has begun a true Aliyah revolution.

Most Americans who have moved to Israel in the last 20 years are highly educated, deeply motivated religious Jews who have chosen to fulfill God’s command to build up the Land of Israel.

With a strong high-tech sector and a skills and innovation-based economy, Israel is more attractive to American Jews than ever. Also, digital communications now allow American Jews to locate or run their business from the Promised Land.

A recent study assessed the value of the positive impact of 18,000 North American immigrants on the Israeli economy between 2002-2008 at over a billion shekels. It’s probably up to 10 billion (or maybe even more) shekels today.

YEMEN

Habanim immigrants on the way to customs to attend to immigration formalities and have some refreshments, Lod airport. 1950. (Fritz Cohen)

For centuries, Yemenite Jews who yearned to live in the Holy Land would walk hundreds of miles through the Arabian desert by foot or in camel caravans. In the early 20th century, many came to the Land of Israel to farm and build. While many of their European counterparts came with secular Zionistic ideology, the Yemenite Jews came with a religious, Biblical ideology.

With the Arab world up in arms after the State of Israel was declared, the Israeli government airlifted tens of thousands of Yemenite Jews to Israel through Operation Magic Carpet in 1949.

The Yemenite Jews in this wave of Aliyah were ill-treated by the secular Zionist establishment. Despite that, the Yemenite community is large, visible, and has deeply influenced the religious and secular cultures of modern Israel.

The few Jews who remained in Yemen after Operation Magic Carpet slowly moved to Israel over the next several decades. As of 2021, only four Jews remained in Yemen., while about 400,000 Yemenite Jews live in Israel.

ARGENTINA

An emotional meeting of two brothers, one of them just arrived as a new immigrant from Argentina at Haifa port. 1969. (Moshe Milner)

Argentinian Jews have been returning to Israel consistently for several decades. Many came in the early years of the State to live on kibbutzim.

Aliyah to Israel has swelled a number of times over the past 70+ years in response to Argentina’s frequent political and economic crises and antisemitic terrorism.

More than 10,000 Argentine Jews have immigrated to Israel since 2000, looking for a more stable economy. Despite that exodus, Argentina still has the largest Jewish community in South America, and the seventh largest in the world.

Today, the Argentine community in Israel is believed to number around 70,000 people, the largest Latin American group in the country.

 

EGYPT

New immigrants from Egypt and Hungary disembark at Haifa port from the S.S. Israel. 1956. (Moshe Pridan)

The journey from Egypt to the Land of Israel, as recounted in the book of Exodus, is the original Aliyah story.

But let’s fast forward to the middle of the 20th century.

Through the centuries, Egyptian Jews experienced eras of both stability and antisemitism, but the declaration of the State of Israel made life there almost untenable and very dangerous. 18,800 Egyptian Jews moved to Israel between 1948 and 1953, thanks in large part to Israel’s Operation Goshen, which smuggled them across the border.

Those who stayed in Egypt finally got their chance to leave in 1956, when around 25,000 Jews were expelled by the Egyptian government. Most of those Jews came to Israel. Almost nobody stayed behind.

As of 2021, there are only three known Jews residing in Egypt, and it doesn’t look like any Jews are going back there any time soon.

AUSTRALIA

Betty Deary, a nurse by profession, 8-years in Israel, from Australia, with her 2-month old son, Kfar Hanassi. 1953. (Fritz Cohen)

Though the Australian Jewish community is relatively small, it boasts one of the highest per-capita Aliyah rates in the Western world. Over 10,000 Australians have moved to Israel since 1948.

The majority of Australian Jewish immigrants come from the city of Melbourne, while the rest come from Sydney and Perth. Australian Jews move to Israel mostly for religious or Zionistic reasons, to live and raise their kids in a vibrant Jewish environment.

One notable non-human immigrant from Australia is one of Israel’s most popular tree species, the eucalyptus. Early Israeli pioneers used eucalyptus trees to dry out swamps, which were breeding grounds for malaria-spreading mosquitoes.

 

MOROCCO

Newcomers on board ship see friends from morocco at Haifa port. Moroccan immigrants. 1954. (Fritz Cohen)

Moroccan Jews were already well-established in Jerusalem, Tiberias, and Tel Aviv at the time of Israel’s founding in 1948. Between 1948 and 1967, approximately 272,000 Moroccan Jews made Aliyah, many through the secret Operation Yachin.

For a period of time, the Israeli government covertly paid the King of Morocco $100 for every Jew that he would allow to move to Israel.

Even though the Moroccan immigrants originally encountered discrimination at the hands of the Israeli government, they fought back, and have flourished.

The Moroccan Jewish community is one of the strongest and most culturally influential communities in modern Israel.

One of their most notable customs is Mimouna, a post-Passover holiday that celebrates the fulfillment of God’s command to not eat leaven during the Passover festival.