Israel Wants More North American Immigrants

About 500 Jewish immigrants from North America, including 400 from the United States, arrived in Israel on Wednesday, one of the largest single-day numbers in recent months.

The immigrants are backed by "Nefesh B'Nefesh," or Jewish Souls United (search), a group that gives financial support to Jews wanting to move to Israel. The group expects to help 1,500 North American Jews immigrate to Israel by the end of summer, group leaders said.

So far this year, 930 U.S. residents have immigrated to Israel, the Tourism Ministry said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) greeted the 500 immigrants at an airport hangar decorated with colored bunting.

"By coming here, you have sent a sound message to the world," he said. "Israel is and always will be the eternal homeland for the Jewish people."

Israel tries to attract as many Jews as possible to live in the country. Jews are eligible for automatic citizenship, and newcomers receive substantial government assistance.

Immigration from Western countries has dropped significantly in recent years, at least partly because of economic and security problems in Israel.

Karen Cohen, who arrived Wednesday from Montreal with her husband and infant son, dismissed the potential hardships.

"There is no such thing as difficult times," she said. "Israel is our home."