A total of 51 new olim landed on Tuesday as part of a Nefesh B’Nefesh Group Aliyah Flight, in cooperation with the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA. Many say the coronavirus helped prompt a decision they long had in the making, especially those from countries hard-hit by the pandemic.

The flight follows a record-breaking month in aliyah with May 2020 showing a 100 percent increase in North American interest in comparison to numbers from the year before.

In May, nearly 800 families and singles submitted online applications out of a total of 1,007 applications that were downloaded and started since the beginning of the month. In comparison, only 424 such applications were submitted in May 2019.

The average age of May’s applicants was 28, and about two-thirds of the submitted applications were for an expected move date within 2020.

“Even now, during the pandemic, Israel’s gates are open to Diaspora Jews, as much as possible, while keeping everyone safe and healthy,” said Minister of Aliyah and Integration Pnina Tamano-Shata. “We anticipate an incredible and welcome increase in olim before the end of this period, and even larger numbers in the next few years. As such, we are preparing a comprehensive national program to encourage aliyah and effectively integrate olim as best as we can.

“It is important to note our work doesn’t end with our oleh brothers and sisters stepping off the plane,” she added, “but continues throughout their aliyah, every step of the way.”

The new immigrants on the group flight earlier this week ranged from the oldest, 87, to a year-old baby.

The new Israelis hailed from New York, Florida, New Jersey, Texas, Wisconsin, California, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island and South Carolina. They plan to live in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ra’anana, Bat Yam, Petach Tikvah, Beersheva, Ramat Hasharon, Bnei Brak, Yavne, Karmiel, Katzrin, Kiryat Haim, Mazkeret Batya, Meitar, Netanya, Netivot and Pardes Hanna.

“The past few months have been challenging at times, with everything going on in the world,” said Esti Brookhim coming off the plane and into Ben-Gurion International Airport. “I am so happy to finally be on the plane, and I am excited to start my new life in Israel!”

© 2020 American Jewish Congress.