Why U.S. Jews Are Turning Israeli

Amy Adelman, 29, kissed her Israeli boyfriend and greeted a whole new life when she stepped off the plane in Tel Aviv last week. She was one of the 220 Israeli citizens-to-be from North America, coming to make "aliyah" in Israel.

"Aliyah," translating literally to "ascent," is a term referring to the perceived spiritual elevation of moving to Israel. In the last five years, the number of American Jews making aliyah to Israel has tripled, according to Charley Levine, spokesperson for Nefesh B'Nefesh, the organization that chartered the plane arriving last week.

"For a lot of people on the plane, making aliyah was their dream for a long time," Adelman told ABC News. "You could feel it in their voices, in their singing. It was hard to sleep because we were up all night singing and talking. I felt like I was on a youth group trip again."

Adelman herself was moving for love, to be with her Israeli boyfriend whom she had met in the U.S. "It was a good package deal, being with Lior and being in Israel," she told ABC News.

Israel's Law of Return allows any Jew the legal right to immigrate and settle in Israel, with automatic Israeli citizenship. The history of aliyah to Israel is a dramatic one—groups of immigrants from all over the world, motivated by Zionism or fleeing anti-Semitism, came to the "promised land" by boat, airplane or emergency airlift.

"Today's aliyah is not your mom's aliyah, or your grandfather's aliyah," 25-year-old Ari Nahman, an official citizen for one year now, told ABC News. "It's a new generation of American Jewry trying to redefine what it means to be in Israel."

The idea of aliyah is changing, Nahman said. "It's not a huge move where you must live here the rest of your life and never move anywhere else. Not that it's temporary, but we're a generation of movers and relocators and job changers, so it's become like moving to any another city—except with the Israel factor."

Adelman agreed. "Maybe it's my age, or my mentality, but I can't really think about things in terms of the rest of my life. But I will be here for a long time."

However, according to Levine, the move is usually permanent—99 percent of the immigrants from North America are now staying. "That's an incredible statistic, because the retention rate has always been challenging," he said. "Thirty years ago the retention rate was only 50 percent."

Dina Victor, 26, came to Israel on a volunteer program two years ago and decided to stay because she "fell in love" with Israel.

"Israel is here and it's the homeland for the Jews," she told ABC News. "If we take it for granted, one day it won't be here."

In Israel military service is mandatory for three years, once citizens turn 18. Immigrants to Israel are required to serve in the army if they are the appropriate age, but Yosef Garber, a 26-year-old pilot by training, wants to volunteer in the paratroopers unit.

"I have some friends who joined the army in Israel," Garber, who arrived on the flight last week, told ABC News. "I've always been jealous. I wanted to be a part of the camaraderie of the whole thing. I want to serve the country and the people. I see it as my responsibility as a Jewish male to serve."

Garber said he would be "naïve" not to realize the difficulties of joining a combat unit in the army, but sees it as a part of his adjustment to the country.

"I see it as a challenge to move here," he said. "I have no family and very few friends here. But I believe these are my people and the best source of satisfaction comes from overcoming challenges."

"It's important to serve because that's what Israelis do," Garber said, "so I have to serve also, in order to fit in."

Even though she has been here for two years, Victor says she still stands out in Israeli culture. "I think in 10 years, I'm still going to be 'the American,'" she said. "I've adjusted to the culture, but as close as I come to being the Israeli, I'm always going to be an 'olah hadasha' [new immigrant]."

Nahman said that sometimes, American immigrants' attempts to blend in made him "cringe."

"Sometimes Americans in Israel try to be more Israeli than the Israeli," he said. "They try to over-bargain for the price of a cab. They do it with the worst Israeli accent, and I just cringe."

Despite this, Nahman said he spends a lot of time with other "Anglos," a term Israelis use to refer to English-speakers from America or Europe. "It's funny because my friends and I will be walking and if we hear English we'll get annoyed, even though we're speaking English too," he said.

"You want to feel unique and be with an all-Israeli Jewish population. Yet at the same time, it's comforting that a lot of people are doing the same thing you are."

Transition for new immigrants is not always so easy—especially with a language barrier.

"Most people told me not to worry because most people speak English," Adelson, who does not speak much Hebrew, said. "But the reality is that most people want to speak Hebrew—and they should."

And what do Israelis think about the influx of English-speaking immigrants? "There are two responses you get from Israelis," Nahman said. "The first is, 'Are you an idiot? What are you doing here, why would you ever come?'"

"The second is 'Kol HaKavod' [an Israeli phrase meaning, 'All the respect to you']," Nahman said. "There's never anything in between."