ON THE FLIGHT FROM JFK TO ISRAEL – Back in 2010, when Ari and Ilana Erdfarb from Bergenfield, New Jersey, received a phone call from a Jewish organization they had been donating to informing them that they won two plane tickets to Israel, they decided to bring their five children along in order to “pass on to them the love of Israel” and spend Hanukka there.

Little did they know that three years later, they would be flying to Israel with their kids once again, this time on a chartered Nefesh B’Nefesh aliya flight along with 231 other excited olim, and landing at Ben-Gurion Airport to the sound of thunderous applause of hundreds of strangers waving Israeli flags, singing in Hebrew and holding up home-made glittery “Welcome Home” signs.

“During that Hanukka trip we looked at each other and realized this is really the place that we should be,” Ilana told The Jerusalem Post just a week before the flight, which took off from JFK airport in New York on Monday.

“It wasn’t even on our radar at that point but being there for the holiday was very special,” Ari continued. “There, your holidays are the state holidays, you walk around in Jerusalem and on the telephone pole there is a hanukkia instead of a Christmas tree. It’s a very different thing to experience it.”

It is this feeling of “the whole country doing what you are doing,” as Ilana described it, which pushed the Erdfarbs to start the aliya process last year.

“We thought: ‘we could do this’,” explained Ari, who works as an attorney and will be able to keep his job and work remotely from Israel.

“Our kids are just so unbelievably happy here, running around, feeling at home.”

Ilana was born and raised in Bergenfield and married Ari after they met at a summer camp where she was a counselor and he was a lifeguard.

“It’s important to say that we love it in Bergenfield, and if Bergenfield was in Israel we would want to stay there forever,” she stressed.

“Until we decided that it was the right thing for our family to make aliya, we really did believe that we would be in Bergenfield forever. We are very comfortable here, we are very involved in the school and the shul and we love it, but we believe Hashem gave us a gift.”

Monday saw Nefesh B’Nefesh’s first charter aliya flight this summer and the 49th since the organization was founded in 2002. Aboard were some 41 families, 54 singles, and a record number of 106 children, including two sets of twins aged seven and nine. The youngest passenger on the plane was only two months old, and the oldest, 78 years of age.

Thirteen future IDF soldiers were also among the passengers.

Moving to the country’s periphery are 41 of the immigrants, a large number of which will be absorbed into Negev and Galilee communities with the help of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.

Before taking off, passengers attended a departure ceremony at JFK airport which took place in the presence of representatives of JNF-US, the Jewish Agency, El Al, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and Nefesh B’Nefesh, as well as Gil Lainer, consul for public affairs at the Consulate-General of Israel, and the guest of honor, former IDF captive Gilad Schalit, who flew to Israel aboard the flight.

“The fact that thousands of people chose to leave their home and start a new life in Israel is not something I take for granted,” said Schalit, shaking many hands and posing for pictures with enthusiastic passengers minutes before the flight departed from New York.

“I wish them success in their integration and this new beginning,” he added.

Greeting the new immigrants, co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh Rabbi Yehoshua Fass said: “I look at this crowd and I see families who started their application process in 2007, 2008 and finally this day is here for you.

“The excitement and nerves are palpable and you see the diversity of all the olim, people of every stripe every color, every location, unified with a similar dream to build a future in Israel,” he said. “It’s a miracle, I can’t imagine our grandparents seeing this sight.”

Although the Erdfarbs told the Post they are confident that making aliyah is the “right thing for [their] family”, some concerns remain, especially regarding the integration of their children in the country.

“Of course we are worried about our children because that’s the nature of parents,” Ilana told the Post. “Our youngest kids are young so they will adapt easily, it’s our oldest kids that we’re a bit nervous about.”

Ilana explained that she and Ari speak with their children about the move and the upcoming challenges very often in the hope that it will help them adjust to the changes a little more smoothly.

“There will definitely be tricky transitions,” Ilana said.

“My daughter who’s starting the 4th grade does very well academically, so the last time that she came home and had gotten a 100 on a test, I saved it and I’m planning on hanging it in her room so that she remembers that she is able to thrive academically.”

The Erdfarbs’ explained that their eldest daughter, who is nine years old and has been expressing concerns about leaving her home in New Jersey, is “a bit nervous socially, about making friends.”

“If you ask her how she feels about it she’ll tell you she doesn’t know,” Ari pointed out.

“But in her heart she knows it will be amazing, although challenging, and we are there to push her through it. We know in our heart of hearts this is what’s best for them,” he added.

This summer, a total of 2,500 olim like the Erdfarbs will be departing for Israel on Nefesh B’Nefesh Aliyah flights, in full cooperation with the Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael.

The second flight is scheduled for August 12. Since its beginnings, Nefesh B’Nefesh has brought some 35,000 immigrants to Israel, whose financial contribution to Israel exceeds $420 million over the past decade.

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