By Dominic Casciani
Emigration is a life-changing experience - but for British Jews who move to Israel it can also fulfil a religious and cultural dream. So how do they feel about moving to what the rest of the world regards as a war zone?
A pre-ceasefire attack on Haifa
Sharon Saltoun hugs her parents, Shoshi and Ischeskel, and smiles. Shoshi holds back tears - those happy tears tinged with sadness that parents shed as children fly the nest.
"We'll take good care of her," says the rep from Nefesh B'Nefesh, the organisation taking a coach load of British Jews to Stansted Airport to embark on a new life in Israel.
She is one of 145 Britons to charter an El Al plane to collectively complete a personal journey to "make Aliyah", or emigrate, to Israel.
Their landing at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on Wednesday will be co-ordinated with two similar flights from Canada and the United States. The 800 passengers make up one of the largest single days of emigration from the West that Israel has experienced in recent years.
Aliyah, which literally means "going up", is not new; Israel has famously brought in a million Russian and 22,000 Ethiopian Jews, with varying degrees of success in terms of their ability to integrate.
Sharon Saltoun with her parents
But it is only thanks to the lowering of costs - particularly in air travel and resettlement - that a viable market in "returning" to Israel has grown.
And it's the dream of being an Oleh hadach - new immigrant - that Londoner Sharon Saltoun, 25, is following.
"I'm going home," says British-born Sharon. "It's a place that I have wanted to go for many years. My mother is Israeli and our family have survived there for many years in difficult times. But I am also going for the good times."
So what makes someone want to do it? In Sharon's case, she wants to be part of the Jewish nation, something personally important to her - although she adds that she'll probably miss Britain's diversity.
She's been making increasingly longer trips to the country and doing voluntary work in the emergency services. She now feels it's the right time to make the leap, and hopes to work in IT.
Nefesh B'Nefesh (NBN) is the Israeli organisation behind this wave of emigrations from the UK. The five-year-old body's name loosely translates as "soul by soul" and it encourages Jews from North America and now the UK to emigrate.
By the end of 2006 it will have helped to create 10,000 new Israeli citizens, something that happens the moment they step onto the soil.
The organisation works closely with the government, and during flights the business class cabin usually turns into a flying bureaucracy as Absorption Ministry officials and others rubber-stamp passengers' papers.
"This is a historic yearning," says Charley Levine, spokesman for NBN and a former Texan.
"These people are already down the road idealistically and we are there to help them.
"Many of them are religiously-natured but others have a different motivation. To say you are a Jew because of your religion is not the whole story. You are part of a people with a shared history and culture. It's the story of a Jewish civilisation to want to return to Israel."
That historic yearning also has a political purpose. Israel needs emigres from the West to strategically strengthen its links with the countries that most support it. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon once said he wanted most of the world's Jews in Israel by 2020.
In contrast, critics of Israel note that the campaign for a "right to return" for Palestinian families who lived inside Israel's borders prior to 1948 is one of the conflict's running sores, and the arrival of emigres has often been associated with the building of controversial settlements in areas claimed by the Palestinians.
Mr Levine says that all emigrants harbour doubts about that conflict - not least in the current crisis. But most regard their movement as a "triumph of history over headlines".
It's a view shared by Londoners Albert and Rebecca Aminoff, whose children Talia, two, and Aaron, three months, comprise the youngest departing family.
"We have always wanted to go," says Rebecca. "We even talked about it on our first date.
"I know we have our Jewish community here but Israel, its environment is much larger. I don't want people to think that I am some kind of religious zealot, because I'm not, but Israel has kedushah - a holiness of the soil - that makes me feel closer to God."
Does she not worry about being caught up in any future conflicts?
"I'm a mother, I worry about my children all the time but we are not stupid, we are not going to live in one of the trouble spots.
"We took a long time to work out that we would be going and talked about it a lot. We believe that this is our country we are going to and that gives us protection. I could get on the Tube tomorrow here in London and the risks are the same."
Is Albert concerned that his baby boy will probably one day be required to pull on an army uniform? "No, I haven't thought about it in those terms," he says. "It's years away and things can change."
Aaron Bernstein, his wife Nechama and their seven-month-old Yitzchok, have already made the psychological leap past security concerns.
"We've made some long trips and have generally been more there than here so the time is right," says Aaron, who hopes to be a rabbi.
Aaron Bernstein and family
"Nowhere is safe when you think about it. God brings us into this world and will take us from it when he sees the time is right."
As the group's bus readies to depart from a sleepy cul-de-sac in Hendon, the atmosphere palpably lifts to one of overwhelming excitement.
Walter Bingham, who is covering the journey for Israeli National Radio and is a recent emigrant himself, having left the UK two years earlier, says nothing compares to the reception on arrival.
"People are wonderful to you," he says. "You're not a 'bloody immigrant' - none of that talk you get here in England. You're someone coming home who hears: 'Baruch haba! Welcome here!"
Good luck to these brave young people. We live in a free world that allows us to go where we feel comfortable and where we feel there will be a good life for our children. I hope they have happy and peaceful lives.
Carol Collier, London, UK
They are born in UK and have benefited from everything the UK offers yet they see a foreign country as their home. Perhaps they can repay the British taxpayer with any education costs and social security benefits they have garnered. Hopefully they have a one-way ticket as their loyalty to their country of birth should render any British passports they hold invalid.
Ian Newberry, Winchester UK
Ian, English people leave this country to go to Australia, Canada and many other places - what is the problem or difference to British Jews wishing to go to their home land in Israel? British Jewry has helped build this country greatly and have proven by their actions to be good loyal citizens who have kept their culture and respected ours at the same time. I am sure these emigres have paid plenty of taxes and Israel's gain will be our loss.
Chris Watkins, Chelmsford, UK
People making aliyah are moving to a country that they regard as their spiritual home. This has nothing to do with "fundamentalism," it is a spiritual journey. It is not more unusual than a Muslim wanting to visit Mecca, or a Catholic wanting to go to the Vatican. Current residents (of any ethic group) will not be displaced by these people, who just want a peaceful life.
Michelle, Leicester, England
Israel is the one place for the Jewish people by the Jewish people, for thousands of years since the Roman invasion Jews have lived throughout the world at the hand of others' "mood". This is the ancestral and of course the modern home of the Jewish people and I for one which them all the best.
Neil Green, Queens, NY US
It is unfortunate that their emigration will most likely result in the displacement of local Arabs. Israel is like a cup of water put too many rocks in and the water will spill over.
This is just emigration, albeit with an idealistic element not usually the case for other emigrants. I have lived in New Zealand and the USA and would have happily stayed on in both if circumstances had been different. For those criticising these people just remember this - the weather is so much better in Israel, (and in NZ and the US) than it is here.
Grahame Reynolds, Wrexham, UK
My personal experience of the UK is limited to a brief holiday many years ago, so I'm no expert on British society. But if the UK-based comments to this article, 70% of which are overtly hostile to Jews, Judaism and/or Israel, are representative, then it's no wonder these Jews are leaving. It's surprising that any are staying.
Yacov Wilon, Jerusalem, Israel
Isn't this some kind of ethnic distilling? All around the world we are encouraged to diversify and have multicultural values and yet here is a country that is actively encouraging cultural isolation. How is that any different to countries that wish to become Muslim states that we all seem to fear so much?
I find it incomprehensible that Palestinians are still waiting in refugee camps for a chance to return to the land they once owned. How is this possible?
Anna, Hastings, England
I am confused. I thought Judaism was a religion, now it seems it is a nationality? Do these people refuse to integrate in their national community and feel that they are British Jews? Should all Roman Catholics have to go and live in Italy? I think this mentality creates most of the friction in the modern world.
Stephen Nately, London
Stephen, Mordechai Kaplan called it a "religious civilization". Alternatively, its a religion in which the peoplehood of the Jews is a key religious concept. If you really want to learn more, there are many good books Judaism you could read.
Ken, Alexandria, Virginia
Very touching. Makes you want to be a part of it.
R K Jaggi, Houston, Texas, USA
As British born and bred, how can anyone call another country 'my country'. Fundamentalism is prevalent on both sides of this issue and political emigrants such as these can only make things worse.
John Wyer, Bangor, North Wales UK
This is an example of why there is so much political unrest in the Middle East. Just because you are of Jewish decent does not give you the right to go back home to the 'Motherland'. Do these people seriously think they have more right to move back to a country they may have never been to without considering the rights of native Israelis or Palestinians - to not consider this is both ignorant and selfish.
Paul, Manchester UK
Although I am not Jewish, it saddens me somewhat to see so many young families departing the UK, but as a mother I can understand their reasons, obviously to the country of their choice.
I have always found that the majority of Jewish people have never imposed their religion, their views, or demanded any preferential treatment (whether British born or not), and they have and do suffer a great deal by bigots in Britain. I wish them all the luck in the world and every success in their exciting new life
R Laurie-Kelly, Wandsworth, London
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