As she walked off Nefesh B’Nefesh’s 53rd special charter flight on Tuesday, Sue Friedman from Riverdale in the Bronx was embraced at Ben-Gurion Airport by her granddaughter, MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu).
“Welcome home, savta ! (grandmother),” said Azaria, before presenting Friedman with a new immigrant card. “It’s very exciting. At the age of 90, my grandmother is finally joining us here in Israel.”
Azaria’s mother made aliya at the age of 18, and was followed by her sister, but three of their siblings and Friedman’s younger sister remain in the US with their families.
Asked how she felt about the move, Friedman said, with tears in her eyes, “I picked Rachel up from the hospital when she came home, and now she’s picking me up. I’m coming home, finally.”
Azaria said that while Diaspora Jews provided Israel with strength and power, she hoped other families would unite in Israel like hers.
“I feel privileged. I never imagined that this moment would come, giving a teudat oleh [immigrant ID] to my American grandmother. And now, as she corrects me, she’s my Israeli grandmother.”
The German-born mother of five, grandmother of 18 and great-grandmother of 37 is planning to move to an inde - pendent living facility opposite the Ra’anana Park. She noted that she had traveled to Israel annually over the last half a century after spending time here with her late husband, Prof. Gerald Friedman, a renowned geologist credited with drawing a topographic map of Egypt used in the Yom Kippur War and later becoming a pioneer of Israel’s offshore natural gas discovery.
Friedman was one of 221 new immigrants from across the US and Canada who arrived on the flight from New York organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and El Al.
Comprising 32 families and 53 singles, they were greeted at the airport by thousands of relatives, friends and soldiers, waving flags and singing, before an emotional reception ceremony at the old Terminal One building.
Among the dignitaries welcoming them were Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin, KKL-JNF co-chairman Eli Aflalo, JNF USA CEO Russell Robinson, the Jewish Agency’s Rany Trainin, El Al’s Stanley Morais, and Nefesh B’Nefesh co-founders Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart.
“If you walk out of this terminal with just a few goosebumps, maybe we’ll live our lives differently here, maybe we’ll lead our lives and this country differently, because we realize the miracle that’s before us,” said Fass, who has participated in all of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s flights, bringing a total of 45,000 immigrants to Israel since 2002.
He said that by the end of this year, more than 4,000 people will have made aliya from North America, half of them over the course of this summer.
Among those on Tuesday’s flight were Ira and Lauren Somers from Merion Station, Pennsylvania, with their five children.
Fass noted that two weeks ago, eight-year-old Moshe Somers’s mother had posted on Facebook his wish list of 20 things he hoped to accomplish in Israel.
Calling Moshe up onto the stage at Terminal One, Fass proceeded to read out the list, which included putting a halt to crying his head off over leaving the US and taking a nap, making new friends in Israel, getting a pet, seeing if the latest Percy Jackson book was available here, and eating lots of ice cream.
Then, in what Fass called his “Oprah moment,” he handed an excited Moshe a Percy Jackson book in English and Hebrew as well as gift certificates for a pet and ice cream. The other 94 children were also handed out gift packs of candies by children who came on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight during Operation Protection Edge last year who had not been given a festive reception because of the war.
“You are sending to the entire world a message of victory, that our Jewish people are coming home,” said Robinson. “Welcome home!” “Now it’s time to get busy,” added Gelbart. “The little kids are gonna go to school, the young adults will go to the army, the parents will have to find new jobs. You’ve got to get busy building the country and building your lives, meeting your neighbors and friends, and being advocates for Israel and for the Jewish people.”
Steven and Fiona Duke came from San Francisco with their three children, aged 16, 13 and nine, a two-year-old dog, and two surfboards.
“It’s time for us to make aliya,” said Steven, 51, who is originally from Durban, South Africa. “We want to be somewhere where being Jewish is normative. San Francisco is a lovely place to live, and it’s been so hard saying goodbye, especially seeing the kids leaving their friends, which was for me really a wrench. But now we’re headed home.”
The Beavers family of African Americans who converted to Judaism hail from Ohio, and have three small children, aged eight, six and two.
“We plan to live in Bat Hefer,” said Aaron, 35, a plumber by profession. “I’m currently a stay-at-home mom, so I’m going to facilitate my kids getting into school and of course do ulpan, and I’d like to do some volunteer work to get familiar with the land, and really experience the many things it has to offer, and find my way from there,” added Tracie.
Eyal Levy, 21, from Boulder, Colorado, was one of 12 young people on the flight getting ready to serve in the IDF.
“I speak Hebrew because my mother’s Israeli and my father’s a Progressive rabbi in Australia,” he said. “I’m in a program called Garin Tzabar, working hand in hand with Nefesh B’Nefesh. I came early so I can have a month to myself, but come mid-August, all of the people in my unit will be moving onto Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’acov and serving together for at least two years.”
While the 90-year-old Friedman was the oldest immigrant on the flight, the youngest was only four months old. According to sources in Nefesh B’Nefesh, the immigrants included two sets of siblings and two sets of three generations making aliya together, as well as top basketball and lacrosse players. Fifty-two people are moving to areas in Israel’s periphery as part of KKL- JNF’s Go North and Go South programs.