NEW YORK – More than 220 olim arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport on Monday morning to board an aliya flight. The air of excitement in the terminal was tempered only slightly by the recent violence in Israel and Gaza.
Zoya and Rami Musayov, who have been married for 14 years, made aliya on Monday with their five children and posed for pictures with their family.
The Musayov’s daughter, Sara, 6, with bouncy brown curls hung onto her mother. She will celebrate her seventh birthday in Israel at the beginning of August. One of the couple’s sons wore a shirt with the IDF logo.
“We don’t know anything yet.
We’ll find out when we get there,” Zoya Musayov said. “I think we’ll be fine.”
She pledged her support for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and said that she wanted to make aliya as a show of support for the decision to undertake Operation Protective Edge.
“It’s scary,” Zoya said about making aliya during war, “but exciting,” her husband added.
Of the more than 200 olim on Monday’s flight, 100 were children; more than 20 had pledged to join the IDF; and one, whose birthday it was, had been a prisoner in Auschwitz. They ranged in age from three months to 88-years-old.
To help keep the children calm, Sean Bennett of the New York Fun Factory walked the line, making balloon figures, including animals.
He stopped by the Millers, a family of eight, and made their children laser guns. The Millers’ youngest daughter pushed a suitcase as tall as she was down the line.
Since 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh has helped more than 40,000 olim across the world, including the USA, Canada and UK, make aliya. Monday was its fifty first charter aliya flight. The next one is scheduled for August 11. That flight will be mostly filled with olim who have pledged to join the IDF, said Arik Puder, who represents the aliya organization for Puder PR. He’s dubbed it “the soldiers flight.”
The olim told stories of having yearned to move to Israel for years.
Yisroel Jungreis, 35, simply said, “It was time.” His mother and father who are based in New York came to the airport to see him off. The couple has a home in Jerusalem where Yisroel will stay while he sets up his new life. “I live in New York, but my heart is in Israel,” Linda, Yisroel’s mother, said.
It was a sentiment echoed by many.
Tony Gelbart, co founder and chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh, said that olim from America were different.
They leave one land of opportunity for another.
“The funny thing about America, it’s a great country, and these people aren’t running away from something.
They’re running toward something they want to fulfill,” he said. “They’re running to something.”
The Consul-General of Israel in New York, Ido Aharoni, spoke at a ceremony that followed check-in. He and the other speakers celebrated the olim for their courage and expressed the hope that the emigrants would look back on the day fondly. A few began to cry.
War was at the forefront of everyone’s mind and the speakers noted that, sadly, making aliya during a time of conflict was not such a rare thing.
During the ceremony, Gelbart told the olim that the Jewish world was watching them. “Everybody, from the prime minister to the soldier on the battlefield is listening and watching and paying attention to this flight that’s coming in,” he said. “You have to understand, you’re important.”
Expressing concern for the Jewish world at large regarding recent anti-Semitic protests around the world, particularly in France, Neil Gillman of The Jewish Agency for Israel said, “Maybe as a result of these attacks people will figure out that the only place you can live a full and proud life as a Jew is the State of Israel.”
The speakers managed to touch on what Israel meant for each one of the olim, for them personally, and for the Jewish world. One woman sobbed quietly, wiping away tears with the back of her hand and covering her mouth. A man behind her dabbed his eyes. The whole of the flight listened intently. For many of them, aliya was a lifetime in the making.
The flight was scheduled to touch down at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday morning at 7 a.m.
Nefesh B’Nefesh promised to livestream the arrival so that families back in the United States could see loved ones in their first moments as Israeli citizens.
As parents steered their kids and their luggage toward the security line, families exchanged tearful goodbyes.
For everyone, Gelbart said earlier, making aliya is hard. It means leaving one home for another. The language is different, the culture is different, but Israel’s pull is too great. And the olim who made aliya on Monday demonstrated that.
“Everyone has a different fear, want and need when they’re making aliya,” Gelbart said, but for olim moving to Israel is like moving home.