Strength in Numbers
Israel Woos Foreign Jews, Including Americans, to Keep Up in Population
ABC News - J E R U S A L E M, July 24, 2004— Many people may wonder what 400 American Jews on a recent flight to Israel were thinking, moving their families to Israel at what is probably not the most opportune moment.
The current Palestinian uprising is now in its fourth year. There was a fatal bombing a week ago in Tel Aviv, and an international court says the wall Israelis are building to protect themselves is illegal.
And yet, they came anyway, drawn by a group known as Nefesh B'Nefesh, which translates as "soul-to-soul." It brought 1,000 mostly middle-class American immigrants last year and will bring 1,500 this year. No wonder Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was part of the welcoming committee.
"We need to bring hundreds of thousands of Jews from America to Israel," Sharon told the new arrivals.
Sharon says the influx is needed because immigration to Israel is at a 15-year low. And with the Palestinian birth rate much higher than the Jewish birth rate, it's expected that in a decade or two, in Israel and the occupied territories Arabs may well outnumber Jews.
Long Way From Queens
Still, it's a long way from the borough of Queens in New York City to Ramat Bet Shemesh in the hills approaching Jerusalem, where the Halberstadt family can still hear the good wishes of friends and family left behind this month.
"People were encouraging, but they said, 'Be safe,'" said Sheryl Halberstadt, a new immigrant. "Some people were nervous about perceived dangers."
Sheryl and her husband, Jeremy, a pediatrician, had been considering this move for nine years.
"We're coming for cultural reasons, for spiritual reasons, for religious reasons," Jeremy Halberstadt said.
But not for political reasons: Their new home is not in the occupied territories, where international observers have questioned the legality of Jewish settlements.
"I think our families are nervous enough with our coming to Israel proper," Sheryl Halberstadt said.
The Halberstadts and their five children are still waiting for most of their furniture. But they seem content, no matter what anyone else may think, because they have arrived.
ABC News' Dean Reynolds in Jerusalem contributed to this report.