An El Al plane brought 17 immigrants from the United States to Israel on Tuesday night. The special flight departed from New York’s JFK International Airport and was a spur-of-the-moment decision by Nefesh B’Nefesh – the group that handles aliyah (Jewish immigration) from North America on behalf of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency.
Many of the passengers – who ranged in age from 1 to 66 – had originally booked flights for later this month, but were told this would be their only option for flying over in the near future.
Another newly branded Israeli citizen arrived on a United Airlines flight from New York, bringing the total number of U.S. immigrants this week to 18.
United Airlines has continued to operate a weekly commercial flight to Israel, despite the pandemic. El Al, the national airline, has halted regular commercial flights since late March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Immigration from the United States has continued throughout the coronavirus crisis, albeit on a much smaller scale. Like returning Israelis, all immigrants are required to spend 14 days in quarantine once they land.
According to Nefesh B’Nefesh, there are signs of growing interest in aliyah among American Jews since the outbreak of the pandemic. Israel is widely perceived to be among the safer countries, with infection and mortality rates much lower than in the United States and many European countries.
“It is increasingly being considered a viable option for many Jews around the world,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the co-founder and executive director of the organization, in a press statement. “As such, we are committed to finding solutions for all those who want to make aliyah amid the COVID-19 crisis.”
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According to figures provided by the organization, 455 applications for aliyah were submitted in April by North American Jews – an increase of more than 50 percent from the equivalent month last year. Another 642 American Jews downloaded applications for aliyah from the group’s website – up 54 percent from last April. This trend, Nefesh B’Nefesh said, has continued and even strengthened in May.
Many of the immigrants on Tuesday’s flight were from New York and New Jersey, two states hit hard by the coronavirus.
Since March, when Israel began enforcing social distancing rules, a total of 109 American Jews have become Israeli citizens. This figure includes 31 who changed their status while already residing in the country.
According to Nefesh B’Nefesh, only a handful of American Jews who had registered for its aliyah flights had either canceled or delayed their plans because of the pandemic.