October 1, 2002
By JENNY HAZAN
For many North Americans, immigrating to Israel means joining the IDF. Jewish Agency data through August indicates that 35 percent of North American immigrants to Israel are between 18 and 34, with an additional 36% under 18.
Joyce Segal, spokesperson for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) a non-profit Zionist organization that encourages aliya and helps new North American immigrants acclimatize to Israeli society says that motivation for making aliya from North America differs from case to case.
"For many, it's a religious motivation. For others, it's a spiritual motivation. Aliya denotes an emotional commitment to the country and to being Jewish," says Segal. "And joining the army is part and parcel of being Israeli."
The AACI offers special support to North American soldiers, in the form of practical and psychological counseling. The organization holds an annual memorial ceremony in honor of North Americans killed in terror attacks, or while serving the country. At the last ceremony the AACI added the names of 25 North Americans to the organization's death toll. Seven were IDF soldiers.
According to Jewish Agency official Akiva Werber, who is responsible for North American aliya, North Americans serve the IDF with pride. "They're a highly motivated group. They don't run away from service; they're interested in doing their civilian and military service," he said. "Many [join] because it fulfills an ideological objective. Many do it because they feel it helps them to integrate into Israeli society."
Yehuda Weinraub, director of foreign press relations for the Jewish Agency and former lieutenant colonel at the IDF Spokesman's unit, concurs. "In my personal experience with North American soldiers, they were highly motivated, many were highly educated, and many made a positive contribution," he said.
Werber said North American immigration to Israel is increasing, despite the country's current security situation.
Approximately 50% more North American aliya files have been opened this year, compared to last year, and first interviews are up 46%. "For 2002, we were originally thinking 1,550 North Americans would be immigrating, but in fact we've raised that figure to 1,750. And, based on expectations, we anticipate that number will be even higher next year," Werber said.
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