Olim arrive in Israel with Nefesh B'Nefesh .
(photo credit: Courtesy Nefesh B'Nefesh)
My wife promised I would be moved to tears.
“You have to come – watching
the olim walk off the bus and be mobbed by everyone with all the music and
dancing makes me cry every time,” she said.
I’ve been hearing about the
Nefesh B’Nefesh welcoming ceremonies for new immigrants at Ben-Gurion Airport
for years now – about how they’re so emotional, the living manifestation of the
Zionist dream, the perfect recharger for someone who’s been living in Israel
longer than they had in the US.
But the combination of getting up at 4:45
a.m., waiting in long security lines necessitated by Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu attending the ceremony and a slight aversion to flag-waving,
hora-dancing displays of primal Zionism, all contributed to my ambivalence about
attending Tuesday’s ceremony marking the arrival of 350 olim from North America, including 127 lone soldiers
as part of the Garin Tzabar program.
My wife and some of my children had
already been to a dozen previous ceremonies, she in her capacity of working with
the absorption of olim and them due to the generous spread of fresh pastries and
iced coffee smoothies provided by Nefesh B’Nefesh (as well as actually liking
open and joyous displays of Zionism).
So bleary-eyed and at least hopeful
of nabbing a sweet breakfast, I boarded a bus with around 40 other members of my
community, most of whom were going to greet arriving friends or family members,
and journeyed to the airport. Unfortunately, due to the bottleneck provided by
the top-level security check, many of the visitors missed meeting their loved
ones during the arrivals procession from the bus that brought them from their El
Al flight to the terminal.
For those that did make it through, the scene
was indeed impressive, with shrieks of recognition, impromptu dances and tearful
reunions being the norm instead of the exception. I tried to get in the moment,
but my eyes remained dry. The new arrivals appeared to consist of two different
population groups – modern Orthodox families with many small children, and the
largely secularlooking 18-to-25-year-olds – many of them children of Israelis
who moved abroad, arriving to join the army and sporting identical green tshirts
with the slogan “Joining the IDF – Summer 2012.”
Sitting a few minutes
later in the hall where the formal part of the ceremony was about to take place
with speeches from Netanyahu and the other dignitaries, I started talking to one
of the future soldiers name Uri, who had arrived from Los Angeles.
amazing being here, it’s something I knew I wanted to do since I was little,” he
said, adding that he had learned Hebrew growing up from his Israeli parents.
Sitting next to him, Tal, a pretty, dark-complected Garin Tzabar member, said
that she was hoping to join a combat unit after completing the Hebrew ulpan the
group was beginning this week.
In front of them, another lone soldier,
Shoham from Tucson, Arizona, was getting a hug from her aunt, Timna, a
modern-looking Sabra with short, red, spiked hair from Bat Hefer.
is the first time I’ve been here to a ceremony and I never thought it would be
this special – it’s been so emotional,” said Timna, above the din of the Jewish
soul music being played by a live band onstage.
“It doesn’t matter to me
that almost all of the immigrants arriving are Orthodox – they are the beautiful
Israelis, and they’re not haredim, so we welcome them.”
The long lineup
of speeches began with Nefesh B’Nefesh co-founders Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony
Gelbart, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver and Jewish Agency chairman
Natan Sharansky among the dignitaries welcoming the new Israelis. Most
focused on thanking the arrivals for making the decision to throw their lot in
with the Jewish homeland and the Israeli people.
Then there was a musical
interlude leading up to Netanyahu’s arrival. The band started performing that
Arik Einstein standard “Uf Gozal” (Fly, Little Nestling), about leaving home,
spreading one’s wings and stepping out into the world.
Looking over, Uri
and Tal, who 12 hours earlier had just met in New York boarding their flight,
had their arms around each other’s shoulders, swaying to the music and singing
along. And that’s when my eyes blurred and I got choked up.
of belonging, youthful idealism and yes… unabashed Zionism had broken through
the smoke screens of flag-waving, debtpaying speeches and long security lines.
They – and we – had indeed come home.