The 54th Nefesh B’Nefesh flight arrived in Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday morning. This was the first of two dedicated El Al Nefesh B’Nefesh flights that will take off this summer. There will also be, according to NBN, “nine group aliyah flights and olim arriving independently on a daily basis.” This will bring 2,000 olim to Israel. Aboard this particular El Al 777 were 218 olim—103 excited children, which included five sets of twins; their origins stemming from New York, Virginia, California and Massachusetts. The youngest oleh: 4 months old; the oldest on this flight: age 71. Also aboard were nine IDF soldiers and three going to Sherut Leumi, 29 families and 47 singles. And let’s not forget to mention the five dogs that each received an ovation. Before everyone left to board the plane, those going into the army were asked to get up on stage and sing Hatikvah.
Moving from Teaneck to Bergenfield is stressful; from an apartment to a house—even if it is just a few miles away is hard. Imagine moving to Israel—finding a job, becoming a citizen, dealing with unimaginable bureaucracy. Nefesh B’Nefesh, founded by Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart, is the organization dedicated to helping singles, families and seniors fulfill the dream of making aliyah since its inception in 2002. The impetus to start NBN stemmed from an Israeli relative of Rabbi Fass being murdered in March of 2001 by a terrorist bombing. He made it a personal mission to make a “significant impact on the State of Israel and the Jewish people.” When you witness one of these charter flights, you truly see the impact that this vision has had.
A family from Las Vegas, with three children under the age of 9, could not stop expressing how helpful Nefesh B’Nefesh has been. The mom is from Sweden, the dad born in Israel, and NBN has helped navigate a complicated system of paperwork, leaving one less thing for them to worry about. A local Bergenfield family, one whose excitement is also coupled with anonymity, spoke of how easy NBN has made the whole process. It is as simple as going online and filling out applications. Cindy Wiesel, who made aliyah last summer, was grateful to the Nefesh B’Nefesh job Facebook page, which helped her and so many others find work in Israel.
Nefesh B’Nefesh works in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael—Jewish National Fund. Representatives from those agencies are in the airport and on the actual flight, making sure their new olim are watched over. According to NBN’s 14 years statistics, there have been just about 50,000 olim, 780 marriages, 4,800 babies born, 6,300 oleh soldiers and people have moved to over 187 communities throughout Israel. Ninety percent of olim have remained in their new homeland.
Ambassador Danny Danon, the chair of the United Nations Legal Committee, who is the first Israeli to hold this title, spoke to the crowd before the flight took off. “You will be arriving to the Holy Land, to the place where your forefathers grew up… it will not be easy, but when you see the miracle of what you have done, it will be worth it.” It was also mentioned that Israel is the only country where you can get a UN ambassador to speak to a group of people moving to his own country.
Families arrived at JFK airport with tears in their eyes, but the excitement was palpable. Nefesh B’Nefesh staff was out in full force, metaphorically holding everyone’s hand and making sure that the process was a smooth one. There were toys and coloring books given out to the younger children, puzzles and games for the older ones; grandparents saying goodbye to their grandchildren; and refreshments. Cake makes every life-changing experience easier to swallow and there was lots of it at the airport. Lifts have been packed with households of memories being sent across the ocean to create new ones, to fulfill the mitzvah of “shavu banim.”
The flight itself broke out into song on occasion, passports collected to make the border process easier, and little kids running up and down the aisles. And before landing, “Oleh Chadash” stickers and NBN apparel was given out to Israel’s newest citizens.
When arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, the celebration only continued with hundreds of Israelis, young and old, dressed in blue and white, waving Israeli flags, some even blowing shofars, greeting the flight. Music was playing and hugs were plentiful. The hot Israeli sun only intensified the emotions in the airport. The guest list to greet the new olim was impressive. Sofa Landver, the Minister of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption; MK Avraham Neguise, chairman of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs; Danny Atar, World Chairman of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael—JNF; and Natan Sharansky, who is the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Rabbi Fass and Tony Gelbart also addressed the audience.
By Banji Ganchrow