Image: Several people gather on the bimah at Temple Sinai, Oakland, for an aliyah to the Torah. (Photo: Linda Burnett, all rights reserved.)
Aliyah (ah-lee-YAH or ah-LEE-yah) (plural, aliyot) is a Hebrew word meaning “going up.” In English, it has two principle meanings:
First meaning: When a Jew from the Diaspora (outside the land of Israel) moves to make their home in Israel, that is called “making aliyah.” It is regarded as a mitzvah, a religious duty, and the ideal of aliyah appears in numerous places in Jewish prayers and texts, most famously at the close of the Passover seder: “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Currently aliyah is governed by the Law of Return of the State of Israel. For more information about making aliyah, contact the Jewish Agency.
Second meaning: During the Torah service, readers are called up to the bimah (a raised platform in front of the congregation) to chant or read the blessings before and after each section of the Torah reading. We are called “to go up” to the Torah for these blessings, which are considered an honor. The one who blesses may or may not be the person who chants the verses from Torah. There are always a minimum of three sections of Torah read, so three sets of blessings as well.
The person who makes an aliyah to the Torah should be a Jew, should be 13 or more years of age, and should feel confident enough in their Hebrew to recite the blessings.
Here is a video from MyJewishLearning.com on how to make an aliyah to the Torah: