A first-of-its-kind charter flight from Mexico carrying 230 Olim (immigrants to Israel), volunteers and Israelis returning home landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday.
Dubbed “Operation Home,” the flight was organized by The Jewish Agency for Israel and Hanoar Hatzioni, with support from Keren Hayesod.
Taking off from Mexico City, the special flight carried 50 new Olim and 150 Hanoar Hatzioni graduates who will take part in Masa, a project which connects young adults with immersive, long-term experiences in Israel.
Additionally, “Operation Home” brought back dozens of Israelis who have been stranded due to the limited availability of flights during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Aliyah has never stopped, even during the most difficult crises the State of Israel has experienced,” said Chairman of The Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog. “Even now, during a global crisis, Jews from all over the world are realizing the Zionist vision and making their new home in Israel. This is a story that touches all Israelis, as most of us are part of our family’s first, second or third generation here in Israel.”
Mexico is home to the third-largest Jewish community in Central America, after Argentina and Brazil, with approximately 50,000 Jews, most of whom live in the country’s capital of Mexico City.
The Mexican Jewish community maintains close ties with the State of Israel and has an extensive education system featuring Jewish day schools and Zionist youth movements. However, since the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic, many of Mexico’s synagogues and other Jewish institutions have closed, while schools and youth movements have moved to virtual operations.
From the beginning of 2020 through July, The Jewish Agency has facilitated the Aliyah of 2,269 Olim from Latin America compared with 1,839 during the same period last year, an increase of 23.3%.
For Mexico in particular, The Jewish Agency has opened 493 Aliyah cases since January, an increase of 32% from last year.
“Today we’re seeing the beginning of a wave of immigrants to the State of Israel that will absorb about a quarter of a million new immigrants over the next five years, including young people, academics, entrepreneurs and professionals,” Herzog said. “This will be a diverse Aliyah from around the world that can also help spur economic growth.
After landing, the new immigrants from Mexico began the required two-week COVID-19 quarantine. At the end of their quarantine, the Olim will be integrated into local communities and absorption centers throughout the country.
Carlos and Miriam Mercado and their four children arrived from Mexico City. After visiting Israel last year, they knew they wanted to make Aliyah.
“Here, I feel truly at home,” said Miriam. “In Mexico, we are always viewed as ‘those Jews’ and never felt safe to go out with a kippah. We knew we would always be a minority.”
The Mercados initially hesitated to take the final step and move far away from their family to a country where they barely spoke the language. Yet the COVID-19 crisis led them to understand how they would be able to be comfortable in Israel and enrich their lives there. They began the Aliyah process in May, and on Tuesday made their way to their new home city of Ra’anana.
“While we were in lockdown in Mexico City, we understood that we’d do just fine on our own in a new country,” Miriam said. “Being at home alone for three and a half months taught us that we’re a strong family, and a family capable of making this change. I want to thank The Jewish Agency, its Global Center and the Israeli Embassy in Mexico; it’s hard to put into words their endless and incredibly moving efforts to make our Aliyah happen.”