Why U.S. Jews Are Turning Israeli

Record numbers of Americans are moving to Israel.

ByABC News
July 15, 2008, 1:01 PM

JERUSALEM, Israel, July 15, 2008 — -- 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."