With relatively little fanfare, Nefesh B’Nefesh’s 50th chartered flight landed in Israel from New York on Tuesday. Although every voyage of the nonprofit aliya organization is important, the half-century one was special.

Of the 331 North American olim on board the so-called “soldiers’ flight,” 125 came as “lone soldiers” set to serve in the IDF. The 63 men and 62 women aged 18 to 22 will be part of the Garin Tzabar program, with most of them hoping to be in elite combat units.

“Even after 50 charter aliya flights, the excitement and emotion we experience on board the plane is as inspiring and heartwarming as the very first flight,” NBN cofounder and executive director Rabbi Yehoshua Fass told The Jerusalem Post. “Looking back at scores of group and charter aliya flights over the past 11 years, it is humbling to observe the remarkable impact that these olim have on Israel.

“Whether it be the brave young men and women who come and volunteer in the IDF, the doctors helping solve Israel’s physician shortage, the pioneers moving to Israel’s North and South, the teachers coming to educate Israel’s younger generations, the medical professionals enhancing the level of medical care provided in Israel or the entrepreneurs impacting Israel economically with their innovative ideas.”

The soldiers’ flight goes to the essence of what Nefesh B’Nefesh (“Soul by Soul”) is all about. Fass came up with the concept after his 13-year-old cousin, Naftali Lanzkorn, was killed in a terrorist bombing at the Mifgash Hashalom gas station east of Kfar Saba on March 28, 2001.

Naftali’s murder left a void that spurred Fass to establish NBN together with philanthropist Tony Gelbart in 2002.

He came on aliya with his family on the organization’s first flight from the US, moving to Beit Shemesh.

Working together with the Interior Ministry, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, the Jewish Agency and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, NBN revolutionized aliya from the US, Canada and Britain by cutting red tape and removing financial, professional and logistical obstacles that often stand in the way of potential olim.

Since its establishment in 2002, the organization has brought some 35,000 immigrants to Israel, maintaining a retention rate of 97 percent.

NBN olim contribute greatly to the social, economic and demographic welfare of Israeli society by serving in the IDF, settling in Israel’s cities and periphery, and boosting economic growth, while infusing the country with idealistic enthusiasm and optimism.

The numbers are staggering. NBN has helped in the aliya of 650 scientists and medical professionals, 415 physicians and psychologists, and 420 educators. Some 4,000 immigrants have served in the IDF, 3,000 have moved to the periphery, 680 have married and 4,200 babies have been produced.

They have formed a huge community in Israel with its own website (www.nbn.org.il) and Facebook page.

“It is inspiring to see the trend of western aliya become increasingly prevalent among North American and British Jews, with so many families, children and young professionals choosing to make Israel their home,” said Fass. “As more of these olim make successful lives for themselves in Israel, we are noticing this is having a snowball effect on their friends, family and peers back home.”

This summer, a total of 2,500 olim will come on NBN flights. Former captive IDF tank gunner Gilad Schalit and Jerusalem Post reporter Danielle Ziri were among those invited to join the first flight last month, which carried 231 immigrants, including a record 106 children and 54 singles.

Ziri was struck by the overwhelming “optimism” among the new Israelis.

“Even those planning on joining combat units in the IDF didn’t seem worried at all,” she wrote. “Everyone was happy. They clapped each time the pilot made an announcement, even if he was simply notifying them of the sale of duty free items, and of course, as the plane’s wheels hit the runway at Ben-Gurion Airport.”

It is in this uplifting spirit that we extend a warm welcome to the newest NBN arrivals. May your optimism grow and spread, may your lives in Israel be happy, and may your contribution to the Jewish state be everlasting!

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