Israel honours migrants in newest national holiday

British olim among those speaking in schools as Israel observes a day to honour people who migrate to the country


Schools across Israel honoured immigrants this week as part of Israel’s newest national holiday.

Aliyah Day was added to the calendar after a grassroots group of Tel Aviv olim decided that Israel should have a day dedicated to Israel’s “ingathering” of Jewish people.

“It all started when I was hanging out with friends and we said ‘this would be cool,’” Jay Shultz, the president of the Am Yisrael Foundation, told the JC.

“It’s a little surreal that it is actually being observed today, the fact that we had an idea that became a holiday on the calendar of the Jewish people.”

After coming up with the idea, Mr Shultz gathered crossparty support, the Knesset voted on it in 2016, and it is now becoming part of the annual routine in schools.

Around Israel, pupils saw scenes like the one in Modiin’s Darke Yehuda school. There, Judith and Martin Lipczer, immigrants from London, sat at the front of their grandson’s classroom, telling him and his classmates about their move.

They spoke in Hebrew, and afterwards their son Jonny Lipczer was kvelling: “I could not be prouder of them, living their dream, and joining all their children and grandchildren.

“The idea of celebrating the contributions of immigrants is a wonderful one, and each person who makes aliyah takes part in building the country.”

Aliyah Day officially tales place in the spring, but schools and the Knesset observe it in the autumn as they are not in session during the actual date. The November date was also seized on by revellers, and a party with a DJ and a busy wine bar at Jerusakem’s First Station turned into a major event.

Mr Shultz said that he became determined to institute Aliyah Day because immigration is so central to Israeli society.

“We want kids acknowledging that the fundamental core value of Israel is aliyah, and it’s in all of our stories,” he said. “All of our families have done it at some point whether it was us recently, or our great great grandparents.”

He said that the occasion makes immigrants feel good about their move and their contribution to Israeli society, making native-born Israelis appreciative of their forebears who moved to Israel and of the recent immigrants around them.

The day has a message for Jews in the diaspora too, he added: “It’s saying to Jews around the world that we want you here and we need you here. A lot of the aliyah over last 100 years has been about running away from things, but now there’s lots for people to run towards.”

He admitted that “not every wave of aliyah has been received as positively as the olim would have hoped” but said Aliyah Day prompts Israelis to be accepting of the immigrants among them.

“A core component of the holiday is that it’s honouring the contributions that olim make to Israeli society and culture,” he said.

He added: “Anything in society, if taken for granted over time, it fades away. So something like a holiday reminds people moving forward that this is fundamental DNA that needs to be noted.”

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