By ADAM SEGAL
Special to The CJN
They have carried out missions in Israel's army, fallen in love, toured the land and volunteered as emergency workers. Through these experiences, five young Canadian Jews have come to the same conclusion – it's time to make aliyah.
"I've been a Zionist all my life," said 19-year-old Joey Lightstone, who is primed to make aliyah this summer.
"I feel that if you're going to support something, you should support it all the way… and the best way [for me] to do that is to join the Israeli army."
Lightstone recently joined fellow young prospective Canadian olim at the Israel Aliyah Center in Toronto to discuss the allure of Israel and the dreams they have for new, improved lives in the Holy Land.
The history major's desire to serve in Israel's army was cemented in 2004, when he engaged in simulated army training through the Marva program (see sidebar).
With his flight just a few months away, he is understandably anxious.
"I'm very excited, but absolutely petrified," said Lightstone, a former participant in the Magen David Adom ambulance volunteer program.
"Leaving everything I know is intimidating."
For Zach Shamir, a 21-year-old student in the York University-Sheridan College design program, moving to Israel can't come soon enough.
"I was ready to go two years ago," said Samir, who participated in Marva two years ago and visited Israel last summer.
"When I'm there, I feel like I'm at home – accepted and completely at peace."
Eddie Walker's love affair with Israel is steeped in romance and serendipity.
In 2004, the Toronto native ventured on a Birthright Israel trip and became smitten with a guide named Romi on his trip.
"We fell in love on the trip," Walker said, a head-over-heels glint evident in his eyes.
"I cried like a baby when I left."
Back in Canada, Walker, an aspiring chef, happened upon a chef's supply store that was staffed by a former student of an Israeli cooking school and learned about a training program in Israel.
"He said the program here is Mickey Mouse compared to Israel. Plus, the school [in Israel] is two doors down from where Romi's dad works. And it's right on the beach!"
Romi now awaits her chef.
A different kind of love has prompted Ari Wexler, 21, to take the aliyah plunge.
His love is for the army.
"I grew up in a Zionist family," said Wexler, who previously took part in a year and a half stint in the army.
"As a kid, I always wanted to be in the army; that was my dream… It's something that's been inside me all this time."
The lone female of this group is Jordana Goldbloom, a Birthright alumna who dreams of studying fashion design in Israel.
"I've never really felt at home except for in Israel," Goldbloom said.
"My parents don't fully understand, but they are supportive and… they're firm believers in experiencing everything the world has to offer."
A significant supporting character in this cast of olim is Dina Gidron, who is aliyah shlichah of the Israel Aliyah Center of the Jewish Agency.
"It's really nice to help other people make aliyah," said Gidron, who made aliyah from England at the age of nine.
"If they meet the right people and find the right career, they will have a wonderful life experience."
Canadian immigration to Israel in on the rise, jumping from 228 people in 2003 to 312 in 2005. The Israel Aliyah Center expects some 400 individuals to make the move this year.
The Canadian olim are a heterogeneous lot, with 50 per cent Orthodox, 15 per cent Conservative, 10 per cent Reform and 25 per cent secular.
Close to half are from 18 to 30, and they represent the full spectrum of professions.
While the reasons for leaving Canada vary, many people caught the Israel bug from positive experiences on organized programs.
"Last March, four people went on our programs and this year, 41 people went in March," said Orna Hollander, regional director of the Israel Program Center.
"The idea is that once people go to Israel and have an experience… with these programs… they may then come to a conclusion that this is where they can see themselves living."
For more information, visit www.aliyah.org and www.israelprograms.org.© 2005 The Canadian Jewish News.