North American Jews making aliyah
For Jews who live in predominantly wealthy western countries, Israel is at best a holiday destination, not a place to live. Photo by Nir Keidar
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The first nonstop aliyah group flight from Los Angeles is scheduled to land at Ben-Gurion International Airport this afternoon.

It will be bringing 62 new immigrants, mostly from California.

The newcomers range in age from 1 to 73, and include 16 army recruits, 23 children and one cat. They come from Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, North Hollywood, Santa Barbara and San Francisco, among others, and are planning to settle in cities and kibbutzim across the country.

They include advertising and computer professionals, diamond dealers and a rabbi.

"I love it here, but it never felt like home," Marissa Simpson, 28, told Haaretz by phone from her Orange County home, shortly before boarding the 15-hour flight. "When I first came to Israel in 2008 I didn't expect to get that feeling, that Israel would feel like home. But I did. It felt like I belong there. So for the last two years I've been making preparations to get there."

Simpson, who studied health care administration but until now worked in bookkeeping, plans to spend her first weeks with friends in Be'er Sheva and to focus on learning Hebrew before looking for a job.

"It's a mixed bag of emotions," she said about her imminent departure. "There's a lot of anxiety and apprehension of leaving everything I've known for 20 years behind, but at the same time a lot of excitement of starting a new chapter."

Los Angeles native Linda Foroozan, 25, is planning to study human genetics at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. She always knew she wanted to live in Israel, and visited the as a child and as a young adult, she said.

"In the meantime I lucked out and I met an Israeli guy, and next month we will be getting married in Israel, so this flight marks new beginnings in my life in more ways than one," she said.

The immigration assistance group Nefesh B'Nefesh said it expects about 5,000 North American and British Jews to move to Israel in 2010, a new record for western immigration. This week alone, 1,000 newcomers on 23 flights from all over the world are scheduled to arrive, including 550 people from France, 101 from Britain, 54 from South Africa and eight from Australia.

The Jewish Agency is organizing several welcoming ceremonies inside the Western Wall Tunnel, where the immigrants will receive their ID cards.