Shuli and David Kulak of Brooklyn knew when they first met at the University of Maryland that aliyah was in their future. They both finished their undergraduate degrees at Yeshiva University and then attended Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Earlier this month, the two 36-year-old doctors – David, a fertility specialist, and Shuli, now working as a biotech consultant – were among the 242 olim who landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s 60th chartered El Al flight.
The flight – which arrived in Israel on August 14 with this writer aboard – capped a summer that saw a total of 2,282 people make aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh. This particular flight carried 31 families, 103 children, 21 medical professionals, and 41 lone soldiers and was facilitated by Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah & Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel (KKL), and the Jewish National Fund-USA.
Emotions were high as the olim walked off the plane at 6 a.m. where they were met with rousing cheers, shofar blasts, and an exuberant crowd of 1,400. When they deplaned, some olim bent down to kiss the ground; others shook off their sleepiness after the nine-hour flight to take in the first moments of their new lives as the morning sun cast a warm, yellow-orange glow.
The flight brought to 60,000 the number of olim that Nefesh B’Nefesh has shepherded to Israel since its founding in 2002.
On the flight were Danielle and Sean Bokor, both 23, of Washington Heights, New York. Danielle is a graphic design artist, and Sean, who has a degree in physics, will pursue his master’s in mechanical engineering at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
“It’s the place to be for tech and innovation,” said Bokor, who wants to work in the defense industry and “make a difference for the security of Israel.”
Also on the flight was Chana Kolber, 19, of Wesley Hills, Rockland County, who made aliyah to serve in the IDF. She first became interested in moving to Israel following an NCSY summer trip to Poland and Israel she took as a teenager.
“When I was in Poland, I saw what happened [to the Jews],” said Kolber as she waited at John F. Kennedy International Airport. “Then we went to Israel. I made the connection and saw the miracle that we have our country. I want to be a part of protecting Israel. I wanted to move for that.”
At the Ben Gurion Airport reception for the new olim were Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Aliyah and Integration Minister Yoav Galant, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, Beit Shemesh Mayor Aliza Bloch, and Bat Yam Mayor Tzvika Brot.
“This path home is often paved with tears, pain, and sacrifice. We know it too well,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh. “But when we have the path to create joy, we are incumbent to celebrate with every ounce of our being…. So today we celebrate the joy. We celebrate your homeland. We celebrate your coming home. We celebrate your resolve, your determination and your values, and this historic, majestic moment. Mazal tov.
Sara Netanyahu directed her comments to the 41 lone soldiers who arrived on the flight.
“Welcome to Israel and welcome to the IDF. You have left a warm home, family, and friends in order to make aliyah and join the success story of Israel and come here, to your home. All of Israel embraces you today. We are all your family. Even if you are called lone soldiers, you are not alone. We are always with you.”
Nearly one week into his aliyah, Dr. David Kulak, who will live with his family in Ra’anana, reflected on his family’s Israel initiation. “We need a teudat zehut (Israeli identification cards), passports, bank accounts, cell service, home Internet, appliances.” And there is “leasing a car, moving, new jobs, new schools, new friendships, language barriers, and all of the random things like how to pump gas here – it’s different!
“That being said,” Dr. Kulak continued, “everyone has been very nice and accommodating. When I drove the wrong way into the Rami Levy parking lot, everyone’s anger dissipated when I sheepishly declared I was a new oleh.
“The owner of Full House falafel made everyone stop eating and clap for us when she found out that we had just made aliyah. So, you know, growing pains definitely, but there is no place like home. Now I can proudly label my apartment as ‘home’ in Waze [the smartphone navigation system] without the galus twinge of guilt I’ve always had.”
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One Year Later: How Are They Faring?
The Jewish Press asked some of the olim who moved to Israel last summer with Nefesh B’Nefesh how they are faring on their one-year “aliyahversary”:
- “It has been an incredible year for us,” said Hani Lowenstein, the daughter of former Connecticut Senator Joseph and Hadassah Lieberman.
“There were definitely some slight hiccups and growing pains along the way, but it’s all par for the course. The kids’ adjustment to school was by far the biggest of the year. As the principal at their school said, ‘Have patience,’ and he was right. Everything takes time.”
- Judy Melzer celebrated her aliyahversary by dining with her brother and sister-in-law at a popular Jerusalem spot and then watching her great-niece perform in Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” in the city’s Bloomfield Gardens.
The lovely evening was interrupted midway by sirens and helicopters – there was an incident in the Old City. But the show went on. The actors just spoke louder until the sirens stopped. In some ways, said Melzer, the evening crystallized life in Israel. Things happen. Life goes on. And your commitment to living out your dream in Israel goes on.
A widow of 10 years, Melzer made aliyah by herself. But the more than 40-year educator is enjoying her second act, working as a sales associate at the Jerusalem’s luxurious Inbal Hotel. “I miss my kids, but we speak daily,” said Melzer, who was the associate principal of Manhattan Day School. “WhatsApp and e-mail does make aliyah easier.”
One of the striking cultural differences she has noticed in Israel is “greater respect for the elderly.” “There’s also tremendous respect for the family,” she added.
- For the Halper family, formerly of Monsey and now of Ramat Beit Shemesh, aliyah has exceeded their expectations. “I think a lot of the adjustment is attitudinal,” said Jonah Halper, president of Altruicity. “Our attitude is very positive.”
In Monsey, the family had two cars and a 2,400 square-foot house. Now, they have no car and a duplex apartment that is 75 percent smaller. “We have less stuff and we have less to worry about,” he said.
The children have greater independence, which they enjoy, said Jonah’s wife, Rebecca. “In America, the mom has to be in control of their social life, but here, the kids coordinate things themselves,” she said.
When asked what about life in the United States she missed, daughter Ayelet, 15, replied, “Miss what?”
- Rabbi Kenneth Brander, president and rosh yeshiva of the Ohr Torah Stone network, made aliyah from Teaneck, N.J., with his wife, Ruchie, and their son, Yitzhak, now 14. “We realized that our aliyah would rise or fall on the success of our son,” he said. “He has really been a hero…. He has gone to school every day and he didn’t always understand everything, but he gave it his all.”
When he made aliyah, Rabbi Brander brought along with him a seven-pound, U.S. Army-issued suitcase that belonged to his father, a Holocaust survivor. “That suitcase is now in my home office,” Rabbi Brander said. “Who would have thought that the [person] packing that suitcase in the 1940s – my father – would have a great-grandchild who was living here, and enjoying the freedom of Jerusalem?”