The number of participants in this year's March of the Living Israel program has doubled compared to last year, program organizers told Anglo File this week. Nearly 2,500 non-Israeli students arrived here for the second part of the two-week trip - an increase which, organizers say, marks a return to pre-intifada figures. Another 2,500 non-Israeli Jewish youths are estimated to have participated only in the European leg of the trip.

"There wasn't a single person who didn't come to Israel because of security concerns," Yossi Kedem, Executive Vice chairman of the March of the Living, added.

The March of the Living program has declined in popularity in recent years, though Kedem says that this year's surge testifies to "a huge revival." The number of participants this year reached some 7,000 - 2,000 of whom were Israeli - a peak in the March's 16-year history. During the first few years of the intifada, the trips drew an average of only 3,500 students, because many potential marchers were hesitant to travel to Israel. In 2002, the Israel leg of the trip was canceled completely.

According to Kedem, the participants who bowed out of the Israel part of the trip this year did so because of financial constraints or school regulations, that restrict the number of days a student is allowed to be absent. Students from North America and South America, most of whom did not fall under either of those two categories according to Kedem, were not given that option and could only participate in the program if they would also travel to Israel.

While here, the teenagers were matched through the Jewish Agency with Israeli partner groups in cities and towns across the country and commemorated Memorial Day with their Hebrew-speaking peers - an experience one 16-year-old participant described as "something I couldn't even imagine possible."

The March of the Living program, which brings Jewish youth on organized visits to concentration camps in Poland, has traditionally ended in Israel with Independence Day festivities in an effort to juxtapose the destruction of the Holocaust with the resurrection of the Jewish people and the founding of the state.