Among the new citizens are a five-month-old, a 95-year old, 96 children, 27 new Israel Defense Forces soldiers, and 4 dogs hailing from 21 states.
"The first time you sing Hatikva not as a visitor or going to a school in America, but finally as my national anthem, in my country – it's amazing," enthused Yossi Gove, a plumber from Passaic, New Jersey who used to be known as "Joe." Surrounded by his family, he blessed his children to grow, succeed and multiply. "Where can you do that more than here?" he asked.
"It's good to be home. It's so good to be home," gushed Elana Frankel, a recent graduate of the University of Maryland. "It's amazing, I can't believe I'm finally doing it. I've wanted to make aliyah since I was 15," she told Fleisher.
Years ago, immediately after spending a year in one of Israel's Torah seminaries for young women, Elana was hooked. But her parents told her she could not make Israel home until she graduated from college. So in order to maintain her commitment to Aliyah and to living a religious life, Elana got involved with Hillel, trying to run pro-aliyah events for other students whenever she could.
"My phone message for the past 7 years says 'Hi, you've reached Elana Frankel, leave a message at the beep, call me back, make aliyah.' Yeah, I've changed my voice mail, but people still associate me with aliyah," she said.
Yet her vision of life in Israel comes just as much from inspiration as from intellectual honesty. "We want to be part of the whole [conversation] of what it is to have a Jewish country, and it's really hard to do that in America," reasoned Varda. She also had words of rebuke for religious Jews who pray for the fulfillment of the prophecy of the ingathering of the exiles, but do not take part. "After 120 years, when you go before Hashem and you have to answer 'why didn't I go' - I don't know what we're going to say… very few people have a good answer," she said.
Varda also encouraged fellow Jews to see Aliyah as a way to affect the future of Israel, saying she believes an influx of 100,000 American Jews would drastically change Israel's political situation. "I think it's extremely important now for people to take action. There is no more time to waste," urged Varda. "We are really on the line. So we are voting with our feet."
While groups of olim [immigrants to Israel] will be coming throughout the summer, the next full chartered plane of Nefesh b'Nefesh immigrants will arrive on August 3rd.
photo credit: Yishai Fleisher