Hundreds of U.S. Jews make aliyah

In New York Tuesday, before the flight took off, Tali Berman said she was born in America but was flying home to Israel.

"We're Jewish, and it feels like home," said Berman, 27, who made aliyah with husband Joshua and their 15-month-old daughter.

About 2,040 North American Jews moved to Israel last year, and the numbers are up more than 20 percent this year, according to the Jewish Agency.

"It's the feeling of the community that this time Israel is really needing them," said Michael Landsberg, executive director of the agency's North American aliyah movement.

But many have trouble saving the money needed to move or are fearful of muddling through the mounds of necessary paperwork, he said.

"I know that there are many Jews who would consider aliyah if they could escape from their loans and mortgages," Landsberg said.

Nefesh B' Nefesh is sponsoring the moves of about 940 North American Jews this year, spokesman George Birnbaum said. About 300 are set to come July 22, with the rest in groups of 30 or so over the following six weeks.

"In terms of immigrants moving en masse, there haven't been these numbers in 25 or 30 years," Birnbaum said.

The organization helped with 519 moves last year.

The privately funded organization helps prospective immigrants with bureaucratic issues. It also provides loans of $7,000 to $18,000 that the immigrants don't have to pay back if they remain in Israel for at least three years.

As the travelers on Tuesday waited for their flight in Kennedy airport's departure hall, many families danced to traditional Jewish melodies played by a band there for the occasion. Luggage carts were stacked high with belongings, and some of the immigrants wore signs reading, "I'm making aliyah."

Berman, who plans to work with autistic children in Israel, said her move would reunite her with family, including her grandmother. She said she isn't concerned about violence in the Mideast.

"Now, as things are becoming more intense, it's an important time to make a claim that the Jewish state has a right to exist," she said.