In 2020, Matti Friedman described the effects of the massive influx of Jews to Israel from the Soviet Union after its collapse. Little could anyone know then that, less than two years later, there would be another wave of immigrants from the same area:
Israelis are as glued to the war in Ukraine as the rest of the Western world, so involved in the extraordinary course of events that most of us haven’t yet considered the most immediate way this is going to manifest itself here: in a new wave of aliyah, “ascent,” the word we like to use for immigration. On Sunday three planes landed with 300 people, and it’s only beginning. Some estimates say 10,000 are coming, some say ten times that; some, like the interior minister, say it could be hundreds of thousands and won’t be limited to people from Ukraine.
The old Zionist absorption machinery—ignored by nearly all Israelis nearly all of the time, though it’s more or less the reason the country exists and the reason we’re all here—is creaking back into motion. Israel will try to work its narrative magic, issuing the newcomers a story of strength that obscures their weakness, telling them they’re not homeless but home and that they’re not refugees but olim, “those who ascend,” masters of their own fate. This story is one of the secrets of the country’s success. A version of it is shared by [the] Germans, the Moroccans and Tunisians, the Romanians, the earlier Russians and Ukrainians, the Ethiopians.
At the beginning of the war the [Jewish Agency] opened an emergency hotline run out of the organization’s venerable Jerusalem headquarters. . . . More than 6,000 people called the hotline from Ukraine in the first 72 hours. Most wanted to ask about immigration. It’s not just Ukraine. The same hotline has fielded several thousand immigration inquiries from people in Russia proper, and in the Russian satellite of Belarus. Russia’s economy could sink.
In the end, the last wave of immigrants from places like Odessa and Chernivtsi changed Israel for good, and for the better—the country we have is unimaginable without them. [Now], the last wave is here to absorb the next one.