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239 North American Olim on NBN Flight; 57 Lone Soldiers

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Amongst the Olim welcomed at Ben Gurion Airport were 27 medical professionals and 13 Jewish community professionals

On Tuesday morning. August 14th, a palpable exuberance filled the El Al departure terminal at New York City’s JFK airport, as 239 new immigrants from North America and their families gathered for a ceremony prior to their takeoff to their new lives in Israel.

Sponsored by the world renowned Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah organization; Tuesday’s flight represented the second charter flight of the summer that brought a wide array of experienced and emerging leaders to Israel, including 57 future Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Lone Soldiers, 27 medical professionals, and 13 Jewish community professionals. This specially chartered flight was generously sponsored by Denver, Colorado local, Heidi Rothberg in coordination with Jewish National Fund USA and was facilitated in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah & Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel (KKL), JNF-USA and Tzofim-Garin Tzabar.

Danny Dayan (center) the Israeli consul general of New York is pictured here with four “soon to be” lone soldiers who were on Tuesday’s Nefesh B’Nefesh flight to Israel. (Courtesy: Nefesh B’Nefesh)

The new Olim hail from 24 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces, including 30 families, 90 children, and three sets of twins. The youngest person on the flight was two months old and the oldest person on the flight was 91 years old. The future Lone Soldiers—those volunteering to serve in the IDF without immediate family living in Israel—will join the close to 1,000 Lone Soldiers from North America, and the close to 4,000 Lone Soldiers from around the world. These young men and women, once they become Israeli citizens, enlist in the IDF as required of all Israelis at the age of 18.

Welcoming the new olim and their families at the ceremony was director of the El Al at JFK airport, Irit Dahani. Offering a warm welcome to the “artists, students, academics, medical professions and many others” who comprise this Nefesh B’Nefesh flight to Israel.

Also addressing the ebullient audience was Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Danny Dayan, the Israel consul general in New York City, Russell Robinson, the CEO of the Jewish National Fund, Yoram Elgrabli, the head od El Al operations in North and Central America, Randy Levine, president of the New York Yankees ballclub and his wife Mindy who is an active volunteer and stalwart supporter of the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization and even joined Tuesday’s flight to Israel.

At the close of the upbeat and highly emotional ceremony, the 57 soon to be lone soldiers and others mounted the stage and offered a rousing and heartfelt rendition of Hatikva; Israel’s national anthem.

“From the earliest days of the Jewish State, courageous young men and women have made Aliyah in order to preserve what was once a distant dream for their parents and grandparents,” explained Rabbi Fass. “Now, 70 years later, the young men and women who arrived this morning as future Lone Soldiers, are driven by the same principles and continue in the spirit of voluntary service–the desire to build and protect our homeland.”

Palpable joy as well as tears could be felt at JFK airport on Tuesday as new olim to Israel said emotional goodbyes to family and friends as they embarked on their new life in Israel. (Courtesy: Nefesh B’Nefesh)

Referencing a letter from a Soviet Jewish refusenik that was written in 1969, Rabbi Fass said, “We must all take in the enormity of this moment. You today are experiencing a true miracle. In 1969, Jewish in the former Soviet Union were denied exit visa to leave their country to live in Israel and now we can go freely. In 1969, a Jewish refusenik wrote: “I am a Jew. I want to live in a Jewish State. I want to live in Israel. If you should jail me for the crime of wanting to belong to my national heritage, I can tell you that one day after my incarceration is over, I will walk home to the land of my ancestors if I have to.”

Tuesday’s flight saw a diverse group of individuals representing all streams of Judaism make Aliyah, in addition to a notable number of high-level Jewish community leaders, including: the managing director of Hasbara Fellowships, the co-directors of the Orthodox Union (OU)-Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) program at Queens College, the executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, the former director of development for the Jewish Woman’s Archive, the associate principal of Manhattan Hebrew Day School and the vice principal of Ohio’s Fuchs Mizrachi School.

Minister of Aliyah and Integration, Sofa Landver said, “On behalf of the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration and myself, I would like to congratulate the new Olim on their decision to make Aliyah and become a part of our family, here in the Jewish homeland. North American Aliyah both strengthens Israel’s economy and boosts the country’s national pride. In recent years, our Ministry has invested heavily in encouraging Aliyah and creating projects to assist in the absorption process. We are ensuring that the integration into Israeli society will be as quick and easy as possible, with every Oleh receiving a warm, personal welcome.”

Once enlisted, these young men and women become part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh and Friends of the IDF (FIDF) Lone Soldiers Program which cares for the thousands of Olim soldiers from around the world currently in active service. This program, with the full support of the IDF, offers guidance, support and care for all Lone Soldier immigrants during each stage of their service, after release from the army, and during the adjustment stages to civilian life.

“A hundred years ago Jewish immigration to Israel was non-existent and 75 years ago we were called illegal immigrants,” said Ron Werner, a national board member of Jewish National Fund-USA who also traveled to Israel on the Aliyah flight with 239 new olim. “Today, any Jew may freely and safely travel to the land of Israel. It is with much thanks to Nefesh B’Nefesh and Jewish National Fund-USA donor Heidi Rothberg’s generous gift of this flight, that 239 new stories can be told as these olim follow in the footsteps of the brave pioneers who came before them.”

In the past, making Aliyah for medical professionals has presented numerous obstacles when it came to being able to practice medicine in Israel including a very long licensing process that took months to complete. Now, as a result of a unique partnership with the Ministry of Health and their Medical Professions Licensing Department, the majority of the 27 medical professionals on this flight will enjoy an expedited licensing process and some will be able to begin working in as little as 2 weeks from their arrival in Israel.

Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, MK Isaac Herzog said, “I wish the new Olim a life full of happiness here, as well as a smooth and speedy transition into Israeli society. The Jewish Agency will always regard Aliyah as one of its main functions, and as such would like to celebrate our joint partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh in assisting the immigration of Jews to Israel.”

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, MK Dr. Michael Oren added “As a representative of the Government of Israel, it is with much honor to take part in this glorious event. Aliyah represents the essence of Zionist vision in which our State was founded. And as a former Oleh from North America, I know how special Aliyah is, motivated not by oppression or economic strife but solely by love of the Land of Israel. Finally, as one who served as a Lone Solider, I want to express my deepest appreciation for your dedication and courage. In the name of our Government and State, I wish you the warmest welcome and mazal tov on the best decision you’ve ever made.”

A special welcome ceremony was held at Ben Gurion Airport upon arrival and included: Sofa Landver, Minister of Aliyah and Integration; MK Dr. Michael Oren, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office; Yehuda Scharf, Director of the Aliyah, Absorption and Special Operations Department of the Jewish Agency; Yoram Elgrabli, Managing Director of EL AL North America; MK Dr. Anat Berko; MK Nurit Koren; and Co-Founders of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart.

About Nefesh B’Nefesh (www.nbn.org.il):

Founded in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel and the Jewish National Fund-USA is dedicated to revitalizing Aliyah from North America and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of Aliyah. The support and comprehensive social services provided by Nefesh B’Nefesh to its over 57,000 newcomers has ensured that 90% of its Olim have remained in Israel.

Edited by: Fern Sidman

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