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Immigration to Israel Increases in 2005

Jews immigrated to Israel in record numbers in 2005. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Jewish immigrants from North America.

Immigration to Israel has risen for the first time since the Palestinian uprising erupted in the year 2000.

About 23,000 immigrants made "aliyah," or immigrated to Israel in 2005, fulfilling the Zionist vision to bring home the exiles. Aliyah has long been a priority for Israeli governments that want to build a strong Jewish majority in a country where Arabs make up a fifth of the population and have a higher birth rate.

In the 1990s, hundreds-of-thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union moved to Israel. But Jews in prosperous Europe and North America have been reluctant to leave home for a country scarred by conflict and terrorism.

Nevertheless, 3,052 immigrants came from North America in 2005, the highest number in 22 years. Yaakov Ellis came from Boston. "We've been dreaming about this for many years, and now, we have an opportunity to make aliyah in a way that our grandparents and our parents and all of our generations have never dreamed out. With people welcoming us, people are happy that we're coming, and it's a wonderful thing to be able to come to Eretz Yisrael this way," he said.

Eretz Yisrael, which is frequently mentioned in the original Hebrew version of the Bible, means the Land of Israel.

Danny Oberman is the vice president of "Nefesh b'Nefesh" or "Soul to Soul," an organization that assists North Americans who immigrate to Israel. He said the credit for the increase goes to idealistic immigrants, "...who have courageously come here, and living their lives, and more importantly, (are) reporting back to their friends and relatives in North America that life here is very good."

A lull in Israeli-Palestinian violence and an improving economy have prompted a small, but growing number of American Jews to leave the comforts of home for a new life in the turbulent state of Israel.