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Benjamin and Michele Katz, who were seen in Netanya on November 2nd, are not the only ones who have chosen to move to Israel at this time. Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail
Benjamin and Michele Katz already had tickets to Israel when Hamas militants breached the walls surrounding the Gaza Strip and massacred more than 1,400 people on the other side.
Your trip was not a vacation. Israel was to be their new home; their move was the culmination of years of reflection on the country where they had met decades ago. Last year they applied for aliyah, the process of immigrating to Israel. After completing the necessary bureaucratic procedures, they secured a seat on a flight on October 19th.
Then the war began. The Katzes of Cleveland were shocked to see images of bloodshed from Israel. But the idea of backing out never occurred to them.
“We never thought about it. We knew what we were doing,” Michele said. She is the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and grew up hearing stories of atrocities against Jews. These horrors seemed to come back to life. This time, however, they had Israel.
“I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to be here,” she said this week from her new home, a short walk from the Mediterranean in Netanya. “We have a place to be that is ours.”
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On October 7, Hamas militants killed Israelis in their homes and took at least 242 people hostage. Israel’s subsequent war against Hamas has killed more than 9,700 Palestinians, including nearly 4,800 children, and devastated large swathes of densely populated Palestinian territory, according to authorities in Gaza. The war was fought in part by a huge mobilization of Israeli reservists that covered every corner of the country. In communities large and small, sirens often warn of incoming missiles and rockets.
But the Katzes aren’t the only ones who chose this time to move to Israel.
The Jewish Agency for Israel, a government-funded body that promotes immigration, has seen a significant increase in the number of people opening aliyah files. Compared to the same period last week, there was a 40 percent increase in files opened from North America and a 50 percent increase in files opened from France.
In Canada, the number, although still small in absolute terms, increased by 64 percent.
“Unfortunately, we know that every time there is a crisis in Israel, Jewish communities around the world are directly affected,” said Shay Felber, director of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Aliyah and Absorption Unit.
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He cited a global rise in anti-Semitic acts, with synagogues destroyed and a cemetery attacked by arsonists. Britain has seen anti-Semitic incidents quadruple. Last week, Israel’s National Security Council warned Israelis against all foreign travel, saying it was advisable to avoid “the open display of Israeli and Jewish symbols and characteristics.”
The people now thinking about moving to Israel “are Canadians, South Africans and French. But they feel unsafe,” Mr. Felber said. “You feel the anti-Semitism. And then they ask themselves whether they want to stay here. Or maybe it’s time to make aliyah.”
The increase in numbers only reflects a small window of time. Nor does it necessarily mean that large numbers of people will relocate to Israel. Applying for aliyah usually takes one to two years. Historically, only half of those who completed their applications took the plunge. Fears have also led some to abandon their plans: At least seven people got off the Katzes’ flight to Tel Aviv on October 19.
Still, the increase in the number of open applications represents a significant departure from an overall decline in the number of people making aliyah in 2023, following a surge in Russian applicants last year.
“To say we have applications from over 1,000 North Americans in the last three weeks is truly amazing. That’s a lot more than we normally get,” said Marc Rosenberg, vice president of diaspora partnerships at Nefesh B’Nefesh, a nonprofit organization that supports people making aliyah from Canada, the United States and Britain.
It is an indication of the profound questions facing Jews around the world in the wake of the October 7 attacks and the outbreak of war that followed.
“It really reflects a tremendous commitment to the idea of strengthening Israel and building Israel,” he said. For some who had long considered the idea of emigrating to Israel – which offers immigrants generous tax and other benefits – the war was a clarifying moment.
“This is something they can do. And they want to be a part of that,” Mr. Rosenberg said.
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Still, it’s a difficult decision. Israel is at war. The country’s vaunted defense has proven imperfect. Learning Hebrew remains difficult.
But for some, the war has also made their homes feel more unsafe. Joe Roberts, a political strategist and chief executive of JSpaceCanada, a progressive Jewish advocacy group, said he was shocked when his progressive colleagues expressed solidarity with the Palestinians in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks.
“Seeing people that I know personally, who I have stood alongside in the fight for racial justice or economic justice — seeing them say on the 8th that this was justified resistance,” he said. “It was so painful and eye-opening and shocking.”
Mr. Roberts lives in Cobourg, Ontario with his family, including two young children. “I think about what will it be like for her growing up here? Is it safe?” When he saw anti-Semitism in Canada, he wondered whether neighbors or the people at the grocery store might also be willing to justify killing Jews.
He knows only a few people who have made aliyah. But he himself has now started the application process. He is not yet sure whether his family will leave Canada.
But he leans towards the idea.
“If we didn’t have kids, I’d probably be in fight mode rather than flight mode,” he said. “But just thinking about their future changes the way I think about everything.”
Source : www.theglobeandmail.com