Israeli summer is in full glory – ice-cold watermelon, late-afternoon cookouts, summer camp, and the arrival of another planeload of smiling, energized immigrants from North America, courtesy of Nefesh b’Nefesh, the Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Absorption, and the Jewish National Fund.
The third flight since June 18 brought 229 Jews home on the “wings of eagles” from New York’s JFK airport.
The new Israelis – young and old, singles and large families – were greeted with tears and warm embraces from family members, as well as songs and a celebratory, 800-people welcoming ceremony organized by Nefesh b’Nefesh and its partners.
Among the dignitaries present to address the honored immigrants was Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Chairman MK Danny Danon.
“I’m honored, and we are all excited to come and greet you today because for you it’s a special moment, but also for the people of Israel,” Danon told the attendees. Offering respect to recently deceased Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir, Danon told the crowd a story about a question he once asked the respected Israeli leader.
“After I introduced him in an event in Florida many years ago, I was younger, with more hair… I asked Shamir ‘what was your great achievement? Leading the underground? Being in the Mossad? Being the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the prime minister? What was your great achievement , Mr. Shamir? He told me ‘Listen, young guy. The great thing is to bring olim to eretz yisrael [the Land of Israel]’, that’s what he believed, and that is what we are doing here today.”
However, Danon offered a stark contrast between the number of immigrants choosing Israel as their home, and the number of Africans doing the same. “Unfortunately, there are more African infiltrators who come from Africa to Israel than olim who come to Israel every year. So the government must do more,” Danon said.
“I want to tell you, the people who made the decision – for you, it was a personal decision. You chose to bring your family, you chose to come to live in Israel, you made the right decision. The best place to bring up, to educate Jewish families is here in Israel, and I know that you come from a wonderful community, but you will not regret it.”
In the 10 years since Nefesh b’Nefesh’s inception, the group has assisted 30,000 Americans, Canadians, and British Jews in making aliyah. Included in that number are 2,500 new IDF soldiers, 378 physicians and psychologists, 650 scientists and medical professionals, and 2,300 new residents in Judea and Samaria. The good times have kept on rolling after the planes landed, with immigrants celebrating 4,000 births, and 640 marriages.
Yael Katzman, Director of Communications for Nefesh b’Nefesh, said that while the organization continues to receive applications from Jews of all backgrounds and personal situations, it has noticed an increase in the number of singles and young professionals choosing to make Israel home. Nefesh b’Nefesh has responded by specializing events and information for the group.
“We’re doing all sorts of special programming for them,” Katzman said. “Next month we have a boat ride we’re organizing in the NY area so they can get together and hear about Israel and aliyah and network with each other.” Approximately 1,400 young professionals are expected to touch down in 2012.
One of those young professionals is Tag Adler, son of Yeshiva University Dean Norman Adler, who returned to Israel after several years in Los Angeles while his wife pursued her PhD, and left the illustrious Google Corporation to make Israel home.
“The market here is incredible for hi-tech in general – this is ‘startup nation’, so I knew that if I left Google, I could come here and find another job and luckily I was able to do that,” Adler said. “And there’s so much talent here and so much opportunity, that people should not be intimidated to come here to get a better job. In fact, I got a really good job, even a step up from what I was doing with someone else, so the dream can come true in Israel. You can have your cake and eat it too here in Israel.”
According to Katzman, the majority of American immigrants harken from New York and New Jersey. Among the concerns Nefesh b’Nefesh helps them address are separation from family members staying behind in the Diaspora, language barriers, and employment.
“Nefesh b’Nefesh was created on the foundation of helping people overcome the obstacles, whether it’s employment or integration or bureaucratic processing, but these are all things Nefesh b’Nefesh has tried to help with and it’s the secret to our success in the last decade,” Katzman said.
Despite criticism that Nefesh b’Nefesh has not garnered a huge surge in the number of Jews hearing the call to return to the homeland, Katzman noted that Nefesh b’Nefesh applications continue to pour in, and that the numbers are only rising. “We’re expecting close to 5,000 olim this year,” Katzman said. “We have never experienced a decrease in the number of olim – we’ve only gone up.”
Overwhelmingly, said Katzman, Nefesh b’Nefesh olim are Jews who connect deeply to their Jewishness.
“The people who are making aliyah are people who are affiliated or people who feel a strong sense of Jewish identity, they are committed,” said Katzman.
“Your family’s going to have to respect your decision that you have to live your dream, and they’re going to have to really love you and set you free to do that,” Adler said. “But ultimately you’re going to have to make that choice to live that dream.”