240 N. American Jews Move to Israel Despite War

A record-setting year of North American Aliyah continued Thursday, with a plane full of immigrants touching down at Ben Gurion Airport.

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Ezra HaLevi, | updated: 12:43

A record-setting year of North American Aliyah continued Thursday, with a plane full of immigrants touching down at Ben Gurion Airport. They were not deterred by the war and some are going up north.

In what organizers have billed "the ultimate solidarity mission," hundreds of Jews from North America chose to pack their bags and leave the comfort and stability of the United States and Canada for the rocketed State of Israel Thursday.


Aliyah enthusiasts, as always, are on hand to welcome the new olim. "Everything is better in Hebrew" reads the sign on the left.
An NYPD officer makes Aliyah with his family.


The olim [new immigrants to Israel] were greeted by former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Efrat’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who himself came on Aliyah more than two decades ago together with many members of his congregation, Nefesh b'Nefesh co-founder Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, and representatives of the Jewish Agency and the Absorption Ministry.

"Israel is not Disneyland. We don't just come to Israel when it is fun and sun," said Rabbi Riskin. “Israel is our motherland - we come to our mother when she needs us."


Rabbi Riskin beams as the olim pile off the plane. "I come to witness this event every year," he says.


"Israel needs you," Riskin added, "but it is a two-way street - each of you also needs Israel. What anyone does in the Diaspora is a footnote in our history, what is being written here is the chapter heading."

Click here to hear Israel National Radio's interview with Rabbi Riskin

Rabbi Fass recalled the Jewish tribes of Gad and Reuven, who requested of Moses to be able to stay east of the Jordan River as the Jewish nation crossed into the Land of Israel. “They told him, ‘We like our comfortable houses and we don’t want to go,’” Fass said. “And Moses asked them, ‘How can you break the hearts of your brothers and sisters in Israel?’ You olim who are standing here today have mended our hearts and are making the hearts of our nation complete.”



Knesset opposition leader MK Netanyahu pointed to the crowd, saying, “You are the best answer to Hizbullah!” He added that Aliyah is the very essence and lifeline of Zionism, “which never envisioned a world where people would stop attacking us, but a world where we would defend ourselves… build cities and create industry.”


Former Prime Minister and current opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed the olim, saying: "Our answer to Nasrallah is you!"


Asked later by reporters about the security situation, Netanyahu said it is critical that the fighting in the north continue until all of Hizbullah’s rockets are destroyed, “so they do not fall on these new olim.”


450 single men and women are making the move aboard Nefesh b'Nefesh flights this summer.


Many of the immigrants are, in fact, moving up north. Two families are moving to the Galilee and one to Haifa, and several young people will be learning Hebrew and working as part of a gar’in (community nucleus) at Kibbutz Kfar HaNassi, near Rosh Pina.


The Klein family is moving to the village of Mitzpe, in the Galilee.
The Kleins are interviewed by Army Radio about their decision to move to the Galilee despite the ongoing war in the north.


Kfar HaNassi has been hit by Katyusha rockets in the recent bombardments by Hizbullah, but young idealists Keren Engoltz, 18, from Albany, Yair Koenig, 25, from Woodmere, New York, and Moti Tufeld, 18, from Boston refused to postpone their Aliyah and are eager to arrive in their new home. “I can’t wait,” said Liat, from Forest Hills, New York, who is also going to Kfar HaNassi. “We are going to be picking avocados, lychees and grapefruits.”


Yair Koenig, Keren Engoltz and Moti Tufeld upon arrival. Next stop: northern Israel!
Steve Rubin, 22, is moving from Philidelphia to Kibbutz Ein Harod, within range of Hizbullah's rockets. The only Hebrew he knows is from an Israel boss "who used to yell at me in Hebrew."


The way the core-group method of Aliyah works is that a number of people meet regularly while still in their home country to plan and develop a bond between themselves. Gar’in Tzabar (literally, the Cactus Nucleus, referring to native Israelis) comprises several core-groups, of which the Kfar HaNassi group is one. “We plan on studying Hebrew for three months while volunteering on the kibbutz,” Engoltz says,” after which we each go to our preferred service within the army.” After that, the group will see each other during furloughs and when they are spending Sabbath back at the kibbutz. “It is a great way to make Aliyah,” Yair says as he heads toward the bus bringing the new olim to collect their bags.


As usual, a large number of children were on Wednesday's flight.


Arielle Listoken is making Aliyah to join her Israeli fiance in Jerusalem. The wedding is in October and Listoken (soon to share the last name Achdut, meaning unity, with her husband) says that in the meantime, “all the Jews back in America should get their butts over here.”

19-year-old Laura Kessous came to Israel on a ten-day Birthright trip, after which she called her mother and told her she didn't want to come home. She eventually agreed to come back to finish high school. Now she is back for good and will continue her studies at Tel Aviv University. "My mother came to Israel on a visit from Morocco when she was younger, telling her parents the same thing. So I am just following in my mother's footsteps," she explains.


Laura Kessous from Montreal is the first new immigrant off the plane.
Can't forget the pets - they can make Aliyah too.


As usual, Wednesday’s flight heralded many family reunifications. Nachum Kligman came to Israel on the first Nefesh B’Nefesh flight in 2002. “My younger brother came a year later,” he says, “and today my parents are finally coming.”


A new immigrant kisses the ground of the Holy Land upon arrival...
...and thanking G-d that he has been brought to this day.
A mother touches the ground and kisses her hand.

(Photos: Ezra HaLevi)




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