Jews in decline: It's better in Israel, say Victor and Caroline from He ndon

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VICTOR AND Caroline Ofstein, young professionals from Hendon in north-west London, emigrated to Israel two months ago. The couple were accompanied by four younger sisters, both sets of parents, a 96-year- old grandfather and a 94-year-old grandmother.

The Ofsteins claim that three-quarters of their friends have also now settled in Israel.

The family members live in an immigrant absorption centre in Ra'anana, north of Tel-Aviv, while they brush up their Hebrew and find their feet.

Mr Ofstein, 26, a systems consultant, was headhunted by an Israeli firm before he left his job in London with Andersen Consulting. His wife Caroline, 27, an occupational therapist has started looking for work.

The Ofsteins are modern Orthodox Jews, graduates of a religious Zionist youth movement. They lived there between school and university and say they always intended to return for both religious and historic reasons.

"It is easy enough nowadays to be a religious Jew in Hendon or Golders Green," Mr Ofstein said. "But being a religious Jew has a lot more meaning when you're actually living in the land where the Torah was meant to be kept ... This is not the only place to be a Jew, but it is the authentic place."

Then there's the historical perspective. "Israel represents an opportunity Jews haven't had for the last 2,000 years," he said. "The opportunity to live in their own land. I for one, and my wife, feel we have to seize that opportunity and make the most of it."

The Ofsteins, who have been married for four years insist they didn't move out of blind faith. Mrs Ofstein said: "Of course there are apprehensions. I don't believe anybody wants to bring up children and send them to the army. You hope and pray that there's going to be peace."

As for the continuing tensions, she said: "In some ways, it's harder being in England and watching everything on CNN, as we did in the Gulf War. Here you feel you're part of it. Everybody is going through the same thing. You get a lot of strength from that. You can cope with it better, even though it's very frightening when bombs are going off."

Another British immigrant, Adam Schogger, a GP, said that he was disturbed by the way Israelis treat each other. Mr Schogger, 37, another religious Zionist, arrived three years ago from Ilford, east London. He lives at Nof Ayalon, an Orthodox commuter village between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, with his wife, Amalia, and four children, aged six months to nine.

"What's disheartening," he said, "is the way people behave towards each other, the dreadful level of political debate."

However, he does not have any plans to return to England. "It's this thing of being in a Jewish country," he said. "It's the only one we've got."