Aliyah is the word that describes the return of the Jewish People from the exile in the Diaspora back to the Land of Israel. The word Aliyah is derived from the verb "laalot" which means "to go up", or "to ascend" in a positive spiritual sense. A person who makes Aliyah is called an Oleh, meaning "one who goes up".
There may be as many stories as the millions of Jewish People who made Aliyah to Israel. But, probably the most overwhelming is the desire to maintain the national identity in the face of strong assimilation in foreign lands. The Jewish population is constantly on the decline in the Diaspora, while the population of Israel increasing steadily.
If you are considering Aliyah, come to Israel for a brief trip. If you are a college student, there are excellent opportunities that allow you to visit Israel with minimal cost (see Birthright Israel programs). In your first trip to Israel, dedicate time to absorb the history of our nation in archaeological sites and museums. Travel the whole length of Israel from the Golan Heights in the North to Eilat in the South seeing the natural beauty, and richness of the Land of Israel. Rest your eyes before the vast bare scenes of the Judean Desert and imagine yourself at the time of the early Hebrew patriarchs. It is here on the hills of Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria) that your great-great ... grandparents changed the course of human history with their monotheistic belief. Go to markets and modern shopping centers and feel the diversity and richness of Israel. If you leave Israel with a touch of feeling that an ancient primordial chord has been struck deep inside you, if you feel a sense of belonging to this special people and the scenes of the land of Israel, you can continue the journey to your ancient past.
Any age, but the younger, the better! Changing a country, and a language and a culture is not an easy experience! The younger you are the easier the acclimation to change. If you make Aliyah when you are 22, you'll learn Hebrew faster than when you are 55! The same goes for most everything.
Come to Israel to study in one of the outstanding universities or in a Yeshiva program. If you come as an Oleh, then the Jewish Agency provides a subsidy to finance your studies. The first year is spent in intensive Hebrew studies course called Ulpan; and then you can pursue regular academic studies in the discipline of your choice.
Because of the relatively high economic status of Israel, many people wish to immigrate to Israel. As Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, Israel provides Aliyah permits to only Jewish people by their birthright. Therefore, a person who wishes to make Aliyah to Israel first of all has to provide evidence of having Jewish parents. This initial stage is generally handled by the local representatives of the Jewish Agency. The process differs between different countries. In the US there are voluntary organizations that provide information and support for the preparations for Aliyah. As a first step for Aliyah, please contact a local Jewish Agency representative and voluntary organizations in your country or organizations of Olim in Israel to obtain further information and advice.
Formally, there is no requirement at all to be a religiously observant Jew. But, many Jewish people who make Aliyah to Israel mistakenly feel that if they make Aliyah to Israel, live in Israel and speak Hebrew they will be good or even better Jews! Major political leaders of the Labor and Likud movements wanted to establish a state based on national affiliation without religious values. These leaders encouraged Jews to abandon their religious practices and established an educational system that excluded Jewish religious observation and in many cases even encouraged anti-Jewish orientation. While the founding fathers generation established the country, the subsequent generations of these leaders and the offsprings of the system that they established turned against the country. Many of the radical leftists in Israel who want to turn israel into a country of all of its citizens represent this trend. If you wish to make Aliyah to Israel to continue your Jewish roots for generations to come, you have to realize that in Israel you have to be even more strongly religious than in the Diaspora. Most importantly, you should make arrangements to send your children to religious schools, and not to public schools where many of the teachers have an anti-Israel and pro-Arab attitude and where Jewish studies is weak to even anti-Jewish (depending on the orientation of the teacher).