Despite tensions surrounding the war in Gaza, 338 new Olim (immigrants) from the United States and Canada arrived in Israel in Tuesday morning, August 12, on an Aliyah charter flight to Israel. The special Nefesh B’Nefesh flight was organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption and Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, The Jewish Agency for Israel, JNF - USA and Tzofim Garin Tzabar.
Included in the group of Olim were 108 inspiring young men and women who made Aliyah and will be serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
The large group of Olim included 37 families with 107 children. The passenger list was also comprised of 65 Olim moving to Israel’s periphery as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh and Keren Kayemeth L’Israel Go North and Go South programs. Altogether, the Olim will be settling in every part of Israel, from Ma’alot in the North to Eilat in the South.
The Olim hail from 27 states and three Canadian provinces, from Arizona to Quebec, and range in age from a six-week-old baby to a 93-year-old great-grandparent in a family of four generations making Aliyah together.
As the new immigrants made their first steps on Israeli soil upon arrival, KKL-JNF presented each of them with a personalized certificate announcing that KKL-JNF will plant a “first tree in the homeland of Israel” in their honor, encouraging the development of the Southern communities .
Said KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler: “The fighting spirit which has enabled the Jewish people to survive for thousands of years is not only found among IDF soldiers, but also among the immigrants who chose to come to Israel alone, without their families, at this particular period of time, and join the elite combatant units of the Israel Defense Forces.”
Stenzler added: “As a central partner in this important project, KKL-JNF is proud of the new immigrants and assures them with its support and promise to accompany them throughout their absorption in the Negev and Galilee, in favor of strengthening the Israeli society.”
Minister of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, Sofa Landver said “it is heartwarming to see young men and women, who despite these challenging times, are leaving their comfortable lives in the Diaspora to make Aliyah and serve and defend the State of Israel." She added that “the Olim who are continuing to move to Israel are strengthening us all, especially these determined young people who will be joining the IDF in combative and significant roles. You are the symbol of Zionism and the future of the State of Israel.”
“I find it profoundly inspiring that we have a 747 jumbo jet filled to capacity with people from the North American Jewish community making Aliyah, especially at such a challenging time,” said Co-Founder and Executive Director of Nefesh B’Nefesh Yehoshua Fass. “To see that Jews everywhere, young and old, religious and secular, are determined to fulfill the dream of helping to build the Jewish State is truly amazing.” he said.
Chair of The Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky said: “That so many Jews from the West are joining us of their own free will is the best answer to those who still try to destroy us. This flight is yet another step in the ingathering of the exiles, and we look forward to welcoming these new Israelis home.”
Among those present at the festive arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion airport, were: President of Israel, Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin; Minister of Interior, Gidon Saar; Director-General of the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigration Absorption, Mr. Oded Feuer; Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky; Chairman of the Board of Directors of KKL-JNF, Effie Stenzler; CEO, Jewish National Fund, Russell Robinson; Chairman of the Israel Scouts Tzofim, Mr. Eli Ben-Yosef and Co-Founders of Nefesh B'Nefesh, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass & Tony Gelbart.
Prior to taking off from JFK airport in New York City on Monday morning August 11, the new olim were sent off in grand style in a farewell ceremony that included such notable personalities as Randy and Mindy Levine of the New York Yankees, Israeli MK Dov Lipman, Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, Cali Cohen, director of the Jewish Agency in North America, Danny Sadon of EL AL, Elad Sandrovich of the International Tzofim of America among many others.
“I would like to thank the Levines for their magnificent hospitality on the eve of these young people’s departure for Israel to join the IDF”, said Erez Halfon, Vice Chairman of NBN.
“Not only did the youngsters get to watch a great game, but the Levines also gave them gifts to help them forge their new lives in Israel,” he added.
In an interview with The Jewish Voice, Mindy Levine said, “Randy and I are so incredibly proud to host these lone soldiers. Just watching them relax and enjoy a day at the ballpark meant the world to us. They watched a scoreboard of home runs rather than watching a scoreboard of incoming rockets from Gaza.”
Rabbi Fass addressed the “commonality of the spirit of Zionism” amongst the diverse nature of the group and said he was taken by the emotional support of the families of those making aliyah, the enormity of love and the miracle of it all. He added that during the war in Gaza not one person cancelled their aliyah plans and many of the lone soldiers even wanted to push up their intended start date of their service in order to participate in defending Israel.
He added that the words of the Psalmist, King David rang true on this historic occasion. “In Psalm 126, it speaks of the Jewish people being like dreamers and at this moment we are living a dream our ancestors never thought possible.”
In addressing the olim UN Ambassador Ron Prosor said, “You are beginning this journey with passion, dedication and emunah.” He added that, “Israel is the place for every Jew to raise his family; to walk the streets there, tall and proud.”