Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi / Flash 90
El Al airplanes parked at the Ben-Gurion International Airport in Lod, Israel, on Aug. 3, 2020.

(JNS) Call it the story of the Oct. 8 Jew.

This past Sunday at the Jerusalem Conference in New York, executives of Israel’s government and nonprofit immigration agencies were joined on stage by a high-ranking official from Israel’s Diaspora affairs ministry to dissect a tug-of-war now in American Jewry: Should we stay, or should we go?


“As an Israeli, as a Jew, I personally believe that every Jew belongs in Eretz Israel and should be living there,” Ron Brummer, deputy director general at the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism, told attendees. “But ultimately, it’s an individual decision, and as long as Jews choose to live abroad in the Diaspora, it is our obligation to make sure that there is prosperous, secure Jewish life everywhere.”

Brummer said American Jews needed to understand that the Israeli government is working to combat antisemitism—“we are fighting it”—and to make sure that “every Jew, wherever he wants, will be able to have a rich, full Jewish life for him and for his family.”

Zev Gershinsky, executive vice president at Nefesh B’Nefesh, concurred with Brummer’s emphasis on choice. The key, Gershinsky said, is giving Jews the tools to deal with their choices, whatever they may be.

Eric Michaelson, director of aliyah at the Israeli Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, said he had toured the Boston area over the weekend, including on college campuses where antisemitism has run rampant since the Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s military reaction to it.

But having spoken to Israelis there and in New York, Michaelson said he’s under the impression that Jewish communities in America feel strong where they are. “What the government of Israel is trying to say,” Michaelson emphasized to those thinking of immigrating to Israel, “is you’re not running away from something. You’re running to something.

Gershkinsky said that plays out in the numbers. Since Oct. 7, as many as 6,000 North Americans have applied for aliyah.

Gershinsky said only 4.5% mentioned that antisemitism is a reason for wanting to immigrate to Israel.

“The vast majority of the applications we get are saying that the reason is Zionism and wanting to serve in the IDF because of the war. And these are facts,” he said. “We see more and more people that feel solidarity and want to come because of a real connection to the State of Israel.”

‘Ripple effect way past the war’

Michaelson said despite the intentions of Hamas and its violent supporters to decrease the spirit of Zionism, he has seen a new concept of American Jew emerge. He described meeting that very morning with college-age students participating in one of the ministry’s flagship programs to hear their stories.

“Some of the people said pre-Oct. 7, they weren’t even contemplating” moving to Israel. “There’s this new concept called the Oct. 8 Jew,” said Michaelson, describing Diaspora Jews who, under fire at home and in solidarity with their Israeli brothers and sisters, have kindled or rekindled their Jewish identity and connection to their homeland.

That spark, claimed Michaelson, makes for a stronger oleh—new immigrant—and “I think it’s going to be prolific, and there will be a ripple effect to this way past the war.”

‘I call it global Jewry

Some 19,000 people globally have opened up an immigration application file with the Israeli government since the war’s outbreak, with exponential increases in applications in France, the United Kingdom and Canada, according to Michaelson.

That has resulted in a special $45 million allocation of funds to accommodate and integrate those who want to come. It is part of an umbrella program called Af Al Pi Chen, which is roughly translated to “in spite of” or “especially now.” The program includes increased rental and tuition assistance; remote pre-immigration Hebrew instruction; and a program to aid with the Israeli licensing of medical professions.

In the end, Michaelson said there is no contradiction or competition between those like him looking to increase immigration to Israel and those such as Brummer who work to strengthen Diaspora communities.

“I don’t even call it Diaspora. I call it global Jewry,” said Michaelson. “The stronger we are over there, the stronger we’re going to be over here—and vice versa.”

Brummer said the Diaspora Ministry’s work includes strengthening Jewish identity and a connection to Israel.“A Jew abroad with a strong Jewish identity and a strong connection to Israel is a great thing for everyone, whether he decides to make aliyah or not,” stated Brummer. “We’re absolutely not competing. We are completing each other.”

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