Seven years ago, Simcha Gluck got the attention of his future wife, Rachel, by singing a Goo Goo Dolls song in a New York karaoke bar. On Wednesday, Simcha was singing "David, Melech Yisrael" at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport as the couple made history by sharing the honor of being the 10,000th person to make aliya through Nefesh B'Nefesh/The Jewish Agency. "As soon as we knew we were getting married we promised each other that one day we would live in Israel," said Rachel Gluck. "We were so proud, so happy when we found out that we were chosen to represent the 10,000th oleh."
New US olim arrive with army on their minds
The Glucks, who led their fellow olim in song at JFK, were a natural choice to represent the landmark for Nefesh B'Nefesh, an organization spokesman said.
"When we began this organization, 10,000 was our landmark. This is a very exciting day for us," said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, one of the founders of the organization. Their new goal, he said, was to bring 5,000 new immigrants each year. He believes Nefesh B'Nefesh will reach that level within two years.
Since it was founded in 2002 by Fass and Tony Gelbart, the organization has worked in close cooperation with the Jewish Agency to bring immigrants from North America and Britain to Israel.
Although the organization prides itself on bringing a wide range of people - the 220 passengers on Wednesday's flight came from 21 US states and ranged in age from eight weeks to 87-years-old - many have criticized it for catering to Orthodox people.
During the flight, several olim complained that the organization's decision to anoint the Glucks with the "chosen title" highlighted its preference for the religious.
"They choose them because they are a young religious couple from a successful background, and that is the image that Nefesh B'Nefesh wants to send," said one young woman, who asked to remain anonymous because she did not want to "make enemies" in Israel before she had made friends there.
"I don't have a better suggestion for who they should have chosen... I think they should have picked no one, but let us all represent that figure," she said. "There were too many great people on this flight - they each should have been held up to the spotlight."
Another oleh with an interesting story to tell was Sam Habers, one of the engineers who prepared the Exodus for its 1947 journey. Thousands of Jewish refugees left Europe on the Exodus, which Habers called a "piece of rusted-out junk that never should have made it out of the shipyard."
"I took the ship on the test run, and I really didn't think that it was fit for anything much," said Habers. "I didn't trust it. I had to wait 59 years, until today, for it to be right for me to make aliya."
Habers, who already has a large family in Israel, was not the only senior citizen on the plane. Carolyn Levant and her husband, Warren Lee, who are 69- and 77-years-old, respectively, made aliya to Israel after a 17-day visit last year.
After they returned from the trip, they each began to research options for immigrating to Israel, without telling the other. One day they discovered they had both been researching aliya on-line. The couple decided they would leave their North Carolina home for Israel.
"This is the third chapter for us," said Levant. "We don't like the American way of retiring. It's too dull... We never had to ask if we were too old or not ready; we just knew that it was right for us."
In 2006, Nefesh B'Nefesh helped more than 3,000 olim move to Israel, representing 16 percent of the total immigration for the year. According to the organization, 99% have remained in the Jewish state.