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Mass immigration from the United States to Israel is not likely, no matter how hard people try to persuade Americans to come here, said sociology professor Chaim Waxman last week.

"The fact of the matter is that it has never happened that people who are doing well socially, politically, who are integrated into the society, immigrate en masse to a place where they'll be doing less well socio-economically," he said.

Waxman is the author of a 1989 book called "American Aliyah: Portrait of an Innovative Migration Movement," and teaches sociology and Jewish studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He made his comments following an immigration conference last week, at which he spoke about the demographics of the people who make immigrate from North America and why.

The conference was sponsored by Aloh Na'aleh, an organization made up of North American professionals, rabbis and laypeople who have successfully moved here and are dedicated to promoting Israel and immigration, at least in part by reaching out to North Americans who may not have considered the option.

The most efficient way to increase American immigration is to focus on the group most likely to make the move - highly educated Jews 35 and under, at least three-quarters of whom are Orthodox - and help them develop occupational opportunities, said Waxman.

"Whether you like it or not, occupation is very important to people," he said. Once Jews make aliyah, their Jewish identity often becomes less significant because it does not set them off from others," said Waxman. This can sometimes mean their occupational identity becomes more important here. Without continued occupational support, the percentage of Americans who return to the U.S. within three to five years of moving here - about 40 percent - will only increase, warned Waxman.

Focusing on people who have indicated an interest in immigration and helping them overcome practical obstacles is precisely the concept behind Nefesh b'Nefesh, which brought over 400 immigrants this summer and plans to bring over another 3,000 to 4,000 next summer - a number based on the 1,300 individuals and families who have already requested applications, said cofounder and executive director Rabbi Yehusha Fass, who also spoke at the conference. Approximately 1,250 Americans immigrated in 2001.