Israeli immigrants

Significance: The state of Israel was established only in 1948, and much of its own population growth has come about through Jewish emigration from the United States and Europe. This makes analyses of migration from Israel to the United States uniquely complex. Many ostensible immigrants to the United States from Israel have been Jews who originated in the United States, emigrated to Israel, and later returned to North America. Some of these same returnees have even returned to Israel again. The subject is also complicated by the fact that immigrants to the United States from Israel have included Muslim and Christian Palestinians, who may or may not have been Israeli citizens. Moreover, some Palestinian immigrants who were legally Israeli citizens may not have identified with the Jewish state.

The number of immigrants to the United States whose last country of residence was Israel has grown steadily over the decades. From 1950 to 1959, 21,376 legal migrants fromIsrael were admitted into the United States. During the 1960’s, that figure increased to 30,911 and in the 1980’s to 43,669. After a slight dip to 41,340 during the 1990’s, a total of 47,873 new immigrants arrived fromIsrael between 2000 and 2008. Estimates from U.S. Census data indicate that numbers of people born in Israel, or Palestine, in the United States grew from 94,500 in 1990 to 123,000 in 2000 and reached 154,000 in 2007.

Immigration from Israel, 1948-2008

Immigration from Israel, 1948-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status.

According to the sociologist Steven J. Gold, a widely recognized authority on Israeli immigrants, Jewish Israelis in the United States have shown a number of distinctive characteristics. They have tended to have high levels of education and to work in professional fields, most notably in educational services. According to early twenty-first century U.S. Census figures, about one-quarter of Israeli immigrants have been managers, officials, and proprietors. Other common occupations have been in sales, teaching, and professional and technical jobs. However, most Jewish Israeli immigrants have come to the United States in order to escape political unrest in the Middle East, not to seek improved economic opportunities. Consequently, although they have generally adapted well to American life and generally speak English fluently, a substantial number of them have avoided describing themselves as "Americans” and have expressed a desire eventually to return to Israel. Many continue to speak Israel’s national language, Hebrew, at home.

Profile of Israeli immigrants

Country of origin Israel
Primary languages Hebrew, English
Primary regions of U.S. settlement California, New York State
Earliest significant arrivals 1950’s
Twenty-first century legal residents* 36,516 (4,565 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Jewish Israelis live throughout the United States, but they are most heavily concentrated in New York City and Los Angeles. These two cities alone contain about half of all Jewish Israelis living in the United States. Other popular destinations for many Israeli immigrants have included Michigan, Florida, and Illinois. Israeli immigrants are frequently drawn to large established Jewish neighborhoods, such as Brooklyn and Queens in New York City and West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley in the Los Angeles area.

Carl L. Bankston III

Further Reading

Gold, Steven J. The Israeli Diaspora. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002. 

Gold, Steven J., and Bruce A. Phillips. "Israelis in the U.S.” In American Jewish Yearbook, 1996. New York: American Jewish Committee, 1996. 

O’Brien, Lee. American Jewish Organizations and Israel. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1986. 

Sobel, Zvi. Migrants from the Promised Land. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1986. 

Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. The Golden Land: The Story of Jewish Immigration to America. New York: Harmony Books, 2002. 

Worth, Richard. Jewish Immigrants. New York: Facts On File, 2005. 

See also: Afroyim v. Rusk; American Jewish Committee; Anti-Defamation League; Anti-Semitism; Arab immigrants; Dual citizenship; Emigration; Holocaust; Jewish immigrants; Los Angeles; Muslim immigrants; New York City.

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