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Immigration to Israel from North America during the first quarter increased by more than 20 percent from a year earlier, according to data compiled by Nefesh B'Nefesh and the Jewish Agency, pointing to a busy year.

Nefesh B'Nefesh, a nonprofit organization that handles immigration from North America and Britain along with the Jewish Agency, says 447 people have come from North America since January 1. Of them, 89 arrived in January, 186 in February and 172 in March. During the first quarter of 2009 - a relatively good year for immigration from across the Atlantic - 370 North Americans came here.

"The first quarter of every year is usually slow, with most olim arriving in summer," said Danny Oberman, Nefesh B'Nefesh's executive vice president. "The fact that we're seeing more olim arriving this early could be a good indication that 2010 will be good for aliyah."

The Jewish Agency compiled a report on immigration to Israel from all over the world, but it covers only January and February. It shows that aliyah in those months was 59 percent higher than in January and February of 2009.

During January and February of 2010, 2,518 olim arrived compared with 1,581 in the same period a year earlier, according to the Jewish Agency. Of them, 596 arrived from Ethiopia.

That means that even without Ethiopian immigration - which was suspended during 2009 - immigration in January and February this year increased by 22 percent.

"The statistics are good," said Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz. According to Maya Neiger, director of resource development for the Jewish Agency's Aliyah and Absorption Department, the new olim would be "sitting down with all of Israel for their first Passover seder in their new homeland."

Last year, some 3,800 Jews moved to Israel from North America - the most since 1983. North American immigration has steadily increased since 2001, when the number bottomed out at 1,650, according to the Jewish Agency.

"The early months of the year are not prime time for aliyah," said Prof. Chaim Waxman, a sociologist who focuses on aliyah. "It's the middle of the school year and many families find the summer and early fall more convenient. If we see an increase now, we can project some increase in the annual total."