Yonatan Cooper always knew that he would immigrate to Israel, but it was the death of his close friend, Michael Levine, in the recent war in Lebanon that prompted the 24-year-old to pack his bags and join 220 olim on a Nefesh B'Nefesh/The Jewish Agency flight Wednesday. "As soon as I get my ID card, I'll be pounding down the door at the IDF's registration office," said Cooper. "I want to be in the paratroopers, like Michael, so that I can take his place there and serve my country."
10,000th Nefesh B'Nefesh oleh arrives
With a new sports car, a home adjacent to Beverly Hills, and a job with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Cooper was "living the dream" in Los Angeles.
"I knew that my real dream, my real career track was in Israel," said Cooper. "It was my father's dream too. He named me after Yoni Netanyahu." Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu was a commander of the IDF's elite Sayeret Matkal unit and is considered one of Israel's foremost war heroes.
On the flight to Israel, Cooper was joined by 21 other olim who plan to join the IDF within the coming months, and one oleh, Eliyahu Joselit, who has already served two- and-a-half years.
Joselit, who joined the IDF as a volunteer in the Nahal Haredi unit, was allowed to keep renewing his time with the IDF. He had served more than two years when he was suddenly told that it was "deeply, deeply against the rules" for him to continue to volunteer and that he must make aliya in order to continue serving in the IDF.
"My heart broke, I nearly cried when they told me that I would need to leave my unit," said the 21-year-old. "I felt like they were taking my whole world away."
Only two days before the flight, Joselit made a final decision to make aliya and sent the staff of Nefesh B'Nefesh into a flurry to get the paperwork ready for him. He is now considering becoming a career soldier in the IDF.
"Before I lived in Israel but I didn't feel a part of it," said Joselit. "As soon as I joined the army, I suddenly felt like a real Israeli." He did not, however, speak Hebrew like a real Israeli.
"My commander had to teach me Hebrew. He would go over things word by word with me," said Joselit. "I kept mixing up certain words and he would make me write things a hundred times to remember them. It's thanks to him that I learned the language."
On Wednesday, NBN, which works closely with the Jewish Agency, brought 220 olim to Israel on a flight from New York, and 50 olim from the UK.