The Jewish Agency for Israel celebrated a special "Aliya Day" in honor of the 60th Independence Day yesterday by welcoming about 400 new olim from 23 different countries. The occasion was marked by a late afternoon ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport for about 180 immigrants from France and the Former Soviet Union. The new immigrants were welcomed by an energetic delegation of two fifth grade classes from the Zalman Aran School in Jerusalem, carrying red roses and Israeli flags to give to their new fellow citizens. "When I came to Israel it was really exciting, so I guess them coming is just as exciting," commented Zalman Aran student Yair Marciano, originally of Las Vegas, on the atmosphere in the airport's old terminal. The ceremony was also held to welcome 14 parents of Israeli "lone soldiers" from the FSU as part of the Jewish Agency's Keshet ("Rainbow") program, which brings the families of lone soldiers to Israel to learn about the country and the benefits of making aliya, according to Alex Selsky, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency. The cheerful celebrations, including folk dancing, singing, and a great deal of flag-waving, were marked by tearful reunions between lone soldiers and their parents. Marina Dilda, a lone soldier who came to Israel from Tiraspol, Moldova four years ago to serve in the IDF Medical Corps, was there to welcome her mother to Israel. Dilda described the experience as "very overwhelming" and added that she felt her mother had to see the Western Wall during her one-week stay in Israel. Aviva, a new immigrant from Paris, came to Israel with her husband Eyal (an Israeli) and their five-month old daughter. She described the family's immigration as the culmination of "a long-term project to come back to Israel," and the timing of their arrival right before the 60th anniversary of the state was "just a coincidence." Even so, Aviva remarked that this Independence Day is "a special time to have made aliya." "We hope that there will be many decades and centuries more," she added. "Like everyone, we hope our daughter won't have to go to the army. We hope that there will be good years for Israel." After the new immigrants settled into their seats, a brief ceremony commenced featuring first a short speech and prayer by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar. Also speaking were Immigrant Absorption Minister Yaakov Edery and Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski. Representatives of both communities of immigrants were presented with certificates of immigration, and the ceremony ended with a group singing of "Hatikva." Bielski commented on the significance of the day nearly coinciding with Independence Day. "It's a gift for the state, because for 60 years we have been bringing olim. By bringing 400 in one day from 23 different countries, it symbolizes the aliya of all three million olim so far, and more people that will follow," Bielski said. Bielski continued, reminiscing, "I was an aliya shaliah in South Africa 30 years ago, and it brings me back to the days when I was at the airport saying goodbye to my friends. It was very emotional and exciting." In addition to the large groups of French and FSU immigrants, other groups arrived from around the world throughout the day. This included a group of about 50 immigrants from Latin America, as well as immigrants from the US, Canada, South Africa, and more unusual locations such as Italy and Honduras.