We’re all familiar with major Israeli holidays like Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, but when it comes to Yom HaAliyah, it’s entirely possible you’ve never even heard of it! That’s not surprising, Yom HaAliyah is a new addition to the Israeli calendar. However, despite being only a few years old, it is still a significant holiday and worth knowing about to have a deeper understanding of Israeli culture.
Yom HaAliyah, or Aliyah Day, is celebrated annually on the tenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan and observed in schools on the seventh of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. This year, it was celebrated on April 5th and is being observed on Oct 15th. The days are set aside as a recognition and celebration of Aliyah (those of Jewish descent immigrating to Israel), recognizing immigration as a core value of Israel, and acknowledging the many contributions immigrants have made to the nation.
The push to have a national day of recognition for Aliyah began in 2012. A grassroots campaign of regular citizens and non-profit groups began to push for a special day to celebrate a key aspect of Israeli life and culture. The message proved popular and gained support from other organizations and enjoyed bi-partisan support across party lines in the Knesset. In 2016, the holiday was officially formed.
The date for the holiday was specifically chosen due to its biblical significance. According to the Book of Joshua, the Israelites crossed the Jordan River at Gilgal into the Promised Land on that day. This would have been the first Aliyah by a large group of people.
The day of observation was also chosen due to biblical significance. The seventh of Cheshvan coincides with the date in which Abraham is told to leave his home to go to what is now Israel. The idea is to make a direct modern connection to the historical roots of the state of Israel.
On Aliya Day, schools set aside their regular lesson plans for special classes and presentations. They learn about the history of the nation, the cultural significance of Aliyah, and the contributions immigrants have made and continue to make to Israel. A ceremony is also preformed at the President’s Residence that is broadcast and shared throughout the nation.
It is a powerful message. Aliyah has always been a fundamental building block of the nation, there is no other country in the world where former residents and the descendants of former residents have returned to their land en masse and reclaimed it as their own. Almost half of all Israeli residents are immigrants, and that is significant. This is not a population that exists as an accident of birth and circumstance, but a population of conscious choice. Of men and women from across the world seeing something worth believing in and taking the chance to relocate to a new place and start a new life in their ancestral home.
That is a truly daring action, one worth celebrating! When you consider the sheer magnitude of what immigration means to the individual and then think of an entire nation built on that impulse, the only mystery is why Israel didn’t have a holiday to celebrate it sooner!