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Embarking on a journey to Israel

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Hundreds from across North America making the move this summer


Embarking on a journey to Israel photo 1

While her friends are going to college orientations and packing up for a year, Jacquie Zaluda is packing for the rest of her life. Her life—18 years so far—has to fit into two suitcases.

In about three weeks Zaluda, a 2010 graduate of the Chicagoland Jewish High School, will board a flight to cross the Atlantic Ocean and start a new life in Israel. After becoming an Israeli citizen, Zaluda will volunteer at a youth village in JUF’s Partnership 2000 sister-city Kiryat Gat and then participate in Mechinat Meitarim-Lechish, a year-long army preparatory program.

“I have wanted to make aliyah for quite a while now,” said Zaluda, who is also an alumna of the Write On For Israel advocacy and education program. “Israel is where I feel most at home. It is where my soul comes alive.”

Embarking on a journey to Israel photo 2

Zaluda was among 120 attendees at a recent party celebrating the latest group of Midwesterners making aliyah. The group gathering in Chicago was a small portion of the overall stream of new olim (immigrants to Israel) who are making the move this summer, said Jackie Hurwitz, aliyah coordinator at the Israel Aliyah Center in Skokie.

Last year, some 3,800 Jews moved to Israel from North America―the most since 1983. People at all stages of life are making aliyah: seniors hoping to retire in Israel after a full life in the United States; recent high school graduates like Zaluda; and young couples seeking to start a family in the Jewish state. The olim come from all across the Jewish religious movements and ideologies.

The economic downturn is another reason for making aliyah, analysts say. Israel’s economy has not suffered as much as the rest of the Western world, and economic opportunities in the high-tech, financial and real-estate sectors abound.

For Zaluda, aliyah makes sense because of a deep love for Israel that has infused the way she sees the world. She first made up her mind while at the Olin-Sang-Ruby Institute summer camp three years ago and sent a letter to her parents “telling them that I am going to move to Israel, I am not going to change my mind, and I need their support.” Her family has been her biggest support system, she said.

 “It’s not easy on anyone in the family,” Zaluda said. “It’s sad and stressful to think that the four of us are now going to be so spread out, but at the same time it instills a sense of pride in my parents and sister. They have never held me back or questioned my decision. They have only supported me and helped me to embark on my journey across the world.”

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