Our analysis and discussion of the main demographic trends for the past year (2020) is being written in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic; it is too early to assess the pandemic’s impact on Jewish demographic patterns in Israel and the Diaspora. On the assumption that there will be no large-scale mortality with implications for Jewish life expectancies, the following four major demographic indicators should be monitored over the coming months:
- Aliyah: As noted, Israel’s new-immigrant numbers for the first four months of this year were a third lower than for the same period last year. In April 2020, only 430 olim arrived in Israel versus 2,300 in April 2019. It is likely that some prospective olim are merely postponing their arrival date and will carry out their immigration plans later in the year. Others may delay their Aliyah indefinitely, or cancel it altogether. At the same time, there are forecasts calling for a significant increase in Aliyah to Israel as early as this year, on the order of 45,000 olim for a total of 90,000 by the end of 2021 (some of these predictions are based on Aliyah applications, or on numbers of people who have expressed interest through Aliyah offices). Many of the olim will be young adults in their 20s and 30s.14 It is now too early to tell which of these two contradictory scenarios will come to pass, but it does seem as though Israel needs to prepare for larger numbers of olim than it has been used to in recent years.
- External migration from Israel: The pandemic and its social implications, the unstable economic situation, and concern for elderly parents, along with what currently appears to be a more secure healthcare system than in many other countries, will keep more Israelis in Israel and reduce the external migration rate. Similarly, these considerations could also bring Israeli expats back to Israel, especially those who have not been abroad for very long and have no family or older children. The more severe the pandemic proves to be, the greater the duration of its impact on external migration and repatriation patterns. The Ministry of Aliyah and Integration needs to use this window of opportunity to try and attract Israeli expats back to Israel, and to help them find housing and jobs under today’s less-than-ideal economic conditions.
- Tourism: The COVID-19 pandemic caused a near-total cessation of international tourism. It is reasonable to assume that the crisis will persist until the end of the year, and even into the beginning of 2021. Under these circumstances, the Ministry of Tourism or other entities could support substitutes such as virtual tourism in Israel, which could provide a temporary alternative to real-life visits and a public relations platform for attracting tourists once the pandemic has passed.
- Fertility: Crises and emergencies that keep people at home for extended periods can boost the birthrate nine to twelve months later. On the other hand, we have no past experience with situations similar to the coronavirus crisis, which featured lockdowns and restrictions on movement over a lengthy period, children home from school and in need of attention and activities, as well as economic uncertainty, including high unemployment rates. All of these could have an impact on family planning and actually result in delayed childbearing. In any event, it would appear, at this stage, that any change in fertility levels will be temporary.