Tony Gelbart's desire to help his fellow Jew is pure and honest. Gelbart, co- founder of the Nefesh B'Nefesh organization, has overseen the return of over 13,000 Jews to their homeland over the past six years.
"I can't take the credit for this," Gelbart told IsraelNationalRadio last week. "It all started when the assistant rabbi of my Boca Raton synagogue [Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder of NBN along with Gelbart] came to my house one Shabbat. I always wanted to learn a little bit with him because he was so young and energetic. When he came, I said, 'Good Shabbos Rabbi! Welcome! You came by to learn a little!' But then, Rabbi Fass said, 'Can we take a Shabbat walk?' He proceeded to tell me that his young cousin, who was 14 at the time, had been murdered by an Arab terrorist at a bus stop. He felt it was important for him to move to Israel as a result, and for more people to move to Israel to fight the injustice. I said, 'I'm glad you want to make Aliyah and you are saddened about your cousin, but how can I help?' He proceeded to tell me about some ideas he had to pursue his dream. We talked about the issues of Aliyah. It took 24 hours to start something, and that's how it all began."
Since then, Gelbart and NBN have brought 31 charter planes filled with new Israeli citizens from North America, Canada, and the United Kingdom to the Holy Land.
"Jews around the world are running away from something," Gelbart continued, "whether it be Communism in Russia, famine in Ethiopia, or anti Semitism in France. The difference between those Jews and Jews in North America is that these Jews are running to something - they're running to be with their fellow Jews in Israel. They feel a desire and a need to come to Israel. They're running to come home to the Holy Land. That desire and burning need had nothing to do with how comfortable it is in America. It had to do with the need to be in Israel."
NBN has a goal, says Gelbart: "It is that any Jewish person who wants to come to Israel will get here, be absorbed, and become a crucial part of helping the Jewish people in their homeland. These people are all across the board - they are doctors, engineers, and lawyers. Hundreds have entered the army. We have Rabbis and people who are learning. Some are traditional and some are religious. We have a microcosm of what the Jewish people are.... What we care about is that if you're a Jew, we want to help you move to Israel."
Gelbart makes sure that every single Jew looking to make Aliyah finds his or her place at Nefesh B'Nefesh: "Everyone who works there made Aliyah from North America and the United Kingdom. They experienced everything about the Aliyah process. They are amazing people ready to reach out and help you along every step of the way. A substantial amount of people who make Aliyah have a job waiting for them in Israel. Some olim are students who go straight to college. Some are doctors and nurses who take new exams and ulpan (Hebrew classes) to become Israeli medical professionals. Some people even come here with their businesses... Every member of the household looking for a job gets a job - not just in any field, but their specific field. We even had a young man who brought three dogs with him to Israel - one bomb-sniffing, one search-and-rescue, and one police dog. One young lady opened a school for autistic children. They came with the idea of helping the country in the way they knew best. It's a whole gamut of people wanting to make their impression on Israel."
Gelbart, who flies with each Nefesh B'Nefesh flight, never gets tired of going on the plane: "The Nefesh B'Nefesh flight is the most uplifting, enjoyable, and emotional experience ever. All of them probably have never met, but they all have one thing in common: they're all moving to Israel. Nobody sleeps. People are walking up and down the aisle. The minute the plane takes off, the Ministry of the Interior people begin to process your paperwork. You can become a citizen on the flight over. You can also fill out the paperwork to begin going by your Jewish name. We have had sheva brachot (post-wedding festive meal) on the plane. We have even had marriages as a result of Nefesh B'Nefesh. At least six couples to date have met on the Nefesh B'Nefesh flights."
The new olim (immigrants) on the plane aren't the only ones cheering when they land. Frequently, flights are greeted by soldiers and residents of Israel. The last flight of 2007 was greeted by over 1,000 Israeli citizens and 150 members of the Israel Defense Forces.
"Every single time I go on a flight, I say to myself that this is unbelievable," Gelbart said. "There are no words to describe what's going on when the flight lands. It's just pure emotion, pure elation, and pure happiness. There is no other way I can describe it. There's no other country in the world that opens its arms and just waits for people to come. It's an emotional high, and it will continue that way. It's amazing to see the faces of the people who are waiting for them and the faces of the people who are making Aliyah. In business, we always look for the bottom line, but this is the most profitable non-profit business I have ever seen."
"I always ask myself why I do this, because people frequently ask me that question," Gelbart concluded. "There's a tug in my heart that says that if I can help the Jewish people of the world return to Israel, then that's a good thing. I'm not the most learned person, but I read enough religious material to understand that the Jewish people need to return in order for good things to happen. I believe that is probably one of the most major aspects of Nefesh B'Nefesh. Everyone who works for us genuinely wants to return all the Jews to Israel."