aliya 224.88 nefesh .
(photo credit: Nefesh B'Nefesh)
Tracy Levy, a 24-year-old journalist from Houston, Texas, and Nefesh B'Nefesh's 15,000th oleh since the program's inception in 2002, landed early Thursday morning at Ben-Gurion International Airport together with 300 other Jews from the US, Canada, and the UK.
A few held babies, others wore guitars on their backs. One carried her two dogs across the tarmac to a group of waiting soldiers. These new immigrants, welcomed by 500 guests - including former MK Geula Cohen and former ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon - will now embark upon their real journey - navigating life in Israel.
Some have attempted to undertake this mission before. Barbara and Judah, a New Jersey couple with two children, made aliya 24 years ago, but due to unforeseen events, returned to America. After recently spending a year here, they decided to try it again, joining this time through Nefesh B'Nefesh, to ease the process.
Nefesh B'Nefesh, founded by Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart, is committed to aiding Jews from North America and the UK navigate the often-complicated aliya procedure. "They helped me with things I didn't know to think about," said Yosef Garber, an oleh from Chicago who plans on joining the army after attending Ulpan Etzion this summer.
NBN works with the olim before and after they arrive in Israel, helping them sort out their finances and providing direction for governmental absorption protocols, while also supplying employment assistance and social services.
Mara Hershkovitz, a 19-year-old who arrived alone from New York, explained, "Nefesh B'Nefesh supports you, because they understand that everyone leaves someone behind."
Transplanting to locations as far north as Safed or as far south as Beersheba, the olim said they comprehended the difficulties of aliya and are ready to accept its challenges. Some have jobs lined up in the medical, law, financial, engineering, and marketing fields, but others are waiting to receive their Israeli identity card before beginning their job hunts.
Tehila Hessler, who plans to move to Ma'aleh Adumim with her husband and son, said "We know it won't be smooth going, but we are prepared to expect the worst, so that we'll then be relieved when it gets easier."
As a band played "Im Lo Achshav, Matay?" ("If not now, when?") in the background, Jeff Price, a father of four who will be telecommuting to the US from Israel, turned to face his daughter and said, "We wanted to come before it was too late for the kids. It doesn't matter if it is easy for [Mom and Dad] - whatever's easy for them is what matters."
The excitement was palpable despite the long days of adjustment that lay ahead. "I feel elated to finally be making aliya," said Levy. "Being able to pursue my career in Israel, as a citizen, is a dream come true."
NBN anticipates receiving a total of 2,000 olim this summer on five chartered flights and eight group flights.