The first chartered plane of a record-setting week of Western Aliyah arrived in Israel Thursday - despite the war.

Ezra HaLevi, | updated: 12:52

The first chartered plane of a record-setting week of Western Aliyah arrived in Israel Thursday, with not a single one of the 243 immigrants signed up backing out or postponing due to the war.

The plane touched down and pulled alongside a special hangar near Ben Gurion Airport’s Terminal 1, where the new immigrants were greeted by hundreds of well wishers, family, friends, IDF soldiers, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and prominent American Aliyah supporter Rabbi Hershel Schachter.

A new oleh blows a ram's horn, invoking the daily Jewish prayer: "Sound the great shofar for our freedom and gather us together from the four corners of the world to our land."
NbN co-founder Rabbi Yehoshua Fass is greeted on the tarmac by Yeshiva University Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter.

The flight was the 18th chartered flight of immigrants organized by the Nefesh b’Nefesh Aliyah assistance organization, together with the Jewish Agency.

“A few months ago, 243 people registered to be a part of this flight today,” Nefesh b’Nefesh co-founder Rabbi Yehoshua Fass said. “They listened to the news and watched the scenes of war on television. But today, that plane landed with 243 olim (immigrants to Israel). We asked G-d to comfort the Jewish people on [the fast of] Tisha B’av last week. Not one person cancelled, and it brings great comfort to all of Israel.”

At every welcoming ceremony, one of the arriving families takes the stage and receives their Aliyah identity card, holding it up and saying a few words. Wednesday, as people awoke to the news of 15 fallen reservists in battles in Lebanon, Harold Sternlicht, one of the new immigrants said: “For many years people have come to Israel running away from things – the Holocaust, persecution. Today we are running to Israel!”

Harold Sternlicht and his family made Aliyah from Pittsburgh, PA.

The audience of new and veteran olim cheered and IDF soldiers who had been brought to the ceremony to greet the arrivals looked on in awe. “This is extremely emotional,” said Rachel, who added that when Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah turns on his television and sees the new arrivals, “he will see that the nation of Israel is stronger than he ever imagined.”

Jack and Riva Ben-Ezra are moving to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, in the Beit She'an Valley. Riva volunteered there 18 years ago and is excited to return.
Benjy Lovitt is moving from New York City to Tel Aviv. "Postpone my Aliyah?" he asks. "What are you, crazy?"
Drawings that won a contest held by Nefesh b'Nefesh adorn the side of the plane. The artists are two young girls who arrived on the plane.

Judy, another soldier, herself came on Aliyah from Los Angeles almost two years ago. She has been in the IDF for a year, in a soldier/teacher program working with underprivileged kids. She says that the sight of crowds of new immigrants reminds her of why she chose to make Israel her home.

Kim Richardson, 21, is arriving from Poughkeepsie, New York. She is joining her sister, Jen, who moved to Israel two years ago. Both sisters say they never thought about moving to Israel while growing up, but attended a program called Netiv their freshman year of college, during which they worked on Kibbutz Saad, studied at Hebrew University and fell in love with the Jewish state. “The hair stylist I went to before I boarded the plane yesterday understood why I decided to move here the best,” Kim said. “His name was Hugo, and he told me, ‘It’s all about your generation – you can change the world.’”

New immigrant Kim Richardson (right) with a friend and her sister Jen (left).
Veteran NbN oleh Yehoshua Coren greets arriving friends.
A family reunited dances for joy.

(Photos: Ezra HaLevi)