More than 400 new immigrants from 23 countries will be arriving in Israel on Monday for what has been declared International Aliyah Day 2008.

Aliyah means immigration of Jews to the Land of Isael.

The one-day display of the ingathering of exiles, orchestrated by the Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency, will mark the absorption of more than 3,000,000 Jewish immigrants to the Promised Land in the 60 years since the State of Israel declared independence.

The new immigrants will hail from almost two dozen countries including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States. They are planning to settle in more than 50 communities throughout the Land of Israel.

A reception honoring the new immigrants will take place at Ben Gurion Airport’s Terminal One at 3 p.m. on Monday, May 5.

Also being flown in are about one hundred parents of lone immigrant soldiers serving in the IDF. The young men and women, who immigrated without their families, will be allowed to spend Independence Day with their loved ones. The initiative, called the Keshet Project, seeks to expose parents of immigrants to the country in the hope that they will join their children here.

The ceremony will be attended by Absorption Minister Ya’akov Edery, Jewish Agency Chairman Ze’ev Bielski, Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar, JNF Chairman Avi Pazner and representatives from the UJC Federations of the US and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which has been assisting the Jewish Agency in its Aliyah efforts.

Origins of the Idea
The concept of Aliyah Day was first proposed by Israel National Radio's Yishai Fleisher, co-founder of the Kumah Aliyah movement. It was formally presented to the Knesset Lobby for Western Aliyah earlier this year.

"Aliyah Day is a project that can help change attitudes through the classic Jewish technique of education," Fleisher wrote in a brief to be submitted to Committee Chair MK Gilad Erdan. "There are well known state holidays that are used as springboards for massive educational undertakings. Yom Haatzmaut [Independence Day] is a national celebration, but it is also a day of award ceremonies, mass concerts, and gatherings. Yom Hazikaron [Memorial Day] has its cemetery memorials and the horn that so powerfully reminds us of the sacrifice. Yom Hashoa educates us about the horrors of the Holocaust. The time has arrived for a new State Holiday called Aliyah Day.

"Aliyah Day should be celebrated in all Israeli schools with every child getting up and telling the tale of his family's Aliyah. On TV, the stories of the various Aliyot (mass immigrations from a particular country or sector) are told. Prizes are given out to Aliyah activists, or Klita (absorption) activists.

"Simultaneously, Aliyah Day will be celebrated internationally in all Zionist institutions. There, the discussion will focus on the importance of Aliyah, the centrality of Israel, and the ingathering of the exiles. In short, Aliyah Day will use the proven model of a State holiday to put Aliyah back into the discourse of Israel and Zionism."

Fleisher originally prepared the idea to be presented by Aliyah activist Ze'ev Orenstein, the former Director of Student Aliyah at the Jewish Agency’s New York Aliyah Center, at the World Zionist Congress. After it the Congress responded unenthusiastically to the idea, Orenstein outlined the proposal further on his blog in 2005:

“Yom HaAliyah [Aliyah Day] is a day which celebrates the Aliyah of millions of Jews from the four corners of the Earth to the Jewish State of Israel,” Orenstein wrote. “[It] is a day which celebrates the undying will and spirit of the Jewish People throughout the 2,000 year Exile to return Home to the Land of Israel, as is expressed through Jewish tradition and heritage. [It] is a day which will focus on educating Jews both in Israel, as well as abroad, of the importance of Aliyah, and the fulfillment that it brings to one's Jewish life.

“In Israel, educational programming would be geared towards helping Jewish Israelis appreciate the significance of Aliyah to the future of the State of Israel, both in a demographic sense, as well as a spiritual one. Additionally, educational programming would be geared towards helping native Israelis understand the challenges and sacrifices involved in making Aliyah, in an effort to try and build a connection and understanding between native Israelis and Olim Chadashim (new immigrants).

“Additionally, on this day, all Jews who made Aliyah in the past year would be invited to a special ceremony lead by Jewish / political leaders throughout Israel in a gala celebration of the Ingathering of the Exiles.

“Jewish communities throughout the world will learn how they can find both personal and communal fulfillment in Israel, be it professionally, educationally, religiously, spiritually, or physically. Olim from their respective communities will return to their native communities to give first hand accounts of their lives in Israel.”

An Annual Holiday
Both Fleisher and Orenstein suggest alternate dates for the new holiday. Orenstein proposed the 6th of Tammuz. "On the 6th of Tammuz over 500 Jews made Aliyah from North America (with the generous assistance and support of Nefesh B'Nefesh), the largest contingent of North American Jews to make Aliyah in one day in Israel’s history," he wrote, explaining that he believes Aliyah from North America to most personify the holiday as it is the apex of Aliyah-by-choice.

Fleisher suggested choosing a day in the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. "It has some amazing Aliyah dates while at the same time being a relatively quiet month situated at the beginning of the school year," he explained "The Torah portion of Lech Lecha usually falls within Cheshvan. Lech Lecha and Abraham's Aliyah is an awesome pedagogical tool to promote Aliyah. Cheshvan also has the yartzeit [anniversary of the death] of [the Matriarch] Rachel, and the Rambam's [Maimonides] Aliyah to Jerusalem. All together, Cheshvan seems a perfect month for a new State holiday to be celebrated and propagated throughout the world with one central message: We are proud and lucky to live in Israel and we are calling upon all Jews to make Aliyah and to join us in the Promised Land."

A dozen other chartered and group flights from the US and Canada will take place throughout the summer, organized by Aliyah-assistance movement Nefesh B’Nefesh. Click here for the dates of the flights.