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Soon-to-be IDF soldiers getting off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport / Photo credit: Shahar Azran

A group of 233 Olim (newcomers) landed Wednesday morning in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport on an El Al Boeing 777 chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh to begin new lives in Israel. The flight celebrated the Aliyah of the 50,000th newcomer through the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization, which was founded in 2002. Among the newcomers were 75 “lone soldiers” who will become Israeli citizens and volunteer to serve in the IDF. The flight was a collaborative project of Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah & Immigrant Absorption, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, JNF-USA and Tzofim-Garin Tzabar.

More than half of the 75 soon-to-be soldiers are young women. Rebecca Glanzer, 22, from Brooklyn, NY, graduated recently from Columbia University with a degree in economics and is hoping to serve in the IDF’s Artillery Brigade. “I have been looking forward to making Aliyah and serving as a lone soldier in the IDF for so many years, and it is so crazy to me that this dream I had in high school is finally being realized,” said Glanzer. She then explained: “What drew me to Israel was the community and sense of belonging that you cannot find anywhere else in the world. Being the 50,000th person to make Aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh only affirms for me that I am part of something bigger, joining the thousands of people who took the opportunity to live a more meaningful and more Jewish life in Israel. I can’t believe it’s finally happening.”

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The flight included a diverse mix of people from 22 US states and one Canadian province, including 24 families, 78 children and 10 medical professionals. The ages ranged from three and a half weeks to 85 years old.

Nefesh B’Nefesh’s 50,000 Oleh Rebecca Glanzer with (L-R) Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, President Reuven Rivlin, Minister of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver, and Tony Gelbart, co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh / Photo credit: Shahar Azran

“This is such an honor for me to join you at this special moment, The moment you have all come home,” President Reuven Rivlin said at the ceremony welcoming the group. He continued, “You are no longer Jews in exile, you are now all Israelis. Each of you, young and old, men and women, have fulfilled the dream of 2000 years, you have made Aliyah.”

“I know the decision to make Aliyah is not easy, leaving behind family and friends, looking for work, starting in new schools, learning a new language. There are challenges ahead but we are all here to support you and help you build your new home,” the President said.

Minister of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver told the newcomers that “the State of Israel salutes the young people who chose to leave their comfortable lives in North America in order to make the greatest contribution to the country’s national security and its people. I congratulate them and the other Olim who make Aliyah as a result of the cooperation between the Ministry and our partner in Aliyah, Nefesh B’Nefesh. I’m confident, and I promise, that the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption will accompany these Olim and take care of them throughout their entire integration process.”

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Founder and Executive Director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, pointed out that “every single family and individual we bring to Israel who decides to make Aliyah is such a special thing for us as an organization, but when you see so many brave young men and women from North America sacrifice so much and voluntarily leave their families because they feel a yearning desire to serve in the IDF and defend Israel, that’s powerful.”

He reminisced how “back in 2002 when Tony Gelbart and I founded this organization, we couldn’t have imagined bringing 50,000 Jews from North America to Israel to fulfill their dreams and the dreams of the Jewish people. And we’re not stopping anytime soon.”

Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky said, “We are proud of our partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh, and every new planeload of North American Olim strengthens and enriches our country. The immigrants arriving from the United States and Canada are coming not out of distress but rather out of excitement to take part in the greatest national project of the Jewish people, said. We must ensure that the State of Israel remains a place in which every Jew feels at home, a place that ignites Jews’ imagination and strengthens their identity and security. I would particularly like to welcome the dozens of young people who are choosing to build their lives in Israel: your success is our success, and your future is our future. Welcome home!”

Gary Vitkin, CEO of Tzofim Tzabar Olami, said, “The touching stories of the participants are inspiring and encourage us to continue to give them the warm hug that they deserve, these young adults from all over the world come to Israel to serve in the IDF as Lone Soldiers. One of the most meaningful accomplishments of Tzofim – Garin Tzabar that is in collaboration with The Jewish Agency, Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, the Kibbutz Movement and Nefesh B’Nefesh is the unique dynamic that is formed by the teens is made possible by these organizations and I am happy to see that this success is translated to building a future in Israel.”

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