“It’s a real privilege and special moment in time that we have our own state, and to be part of that endeavor is something that has always been part of my consciousness,” Jim Lando, 51, said as he sat aboard an Israel-bound plane alongside 232 other North American Jews immigrating to Israel on Tuesday.
Jim and his wife, Leigh, 52, hail from Pittsburgh and are both physicians. They were among 26 members of medical professions making aliya via the Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight, as well as computer programmers, fashion stylists, aspiring actors and 70 future lone soldiers, soldiers to be with no close relatives in Israel who can help them.
“We’re all on our own journeys and going on our own paths – but we’re all in the same moment at the same time, doing the same exact thing,” said soon-to-be lone soldier Alexander Hymowitz, 21, from Brooklyn, visibly buzzing with adrenaline.
“It’s better than we ever imagined,” said Phillip Stein, 64, who had been planning on making aliya from New Jersey with his wife, Shelly, 62, for decades. They were met at Ben-Gurion Airport by family and friends, including their son and grandchildren.
“We’re so excited to be here. It’s been so many years in the making and... this is really it!” echoed Chani Goldfeder, 30, who made aliya from New York with her husband, Corey, 34 and their daughters Reut, four, and Elana, one. Corey has transferred from Google in New York to the Tel Aviv office, and Chani, a postdoctoral fellow at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens, will seek work in clinical psychology. The young family will make its home in Tel Mond, east of Netanya.
US Ambassador David Friedman came to the airport to meet his daughter and new olah Talia. Other dignitaries participating in the welcome ceremony included Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and World Chairman of KKLJNF Daniel Atar.
“A person who makes aliya is a person who makes a decision. It constitutes a deep expression of the soul of the nation,” Lapid told the crowd. “Your decision means Israel is not just a place, but a choice. People mistakenly think this is a privilege. It’s not. It’s a duty.”
Wishing them all a successful life in Israel, he added: “We need you. Your love, your brains your energy, we need you because without you our family is incomplete.”
Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, said, “Today’s olim, all from diverse communities and backgrounds, are Israel’s 21st-century pioneers, helping to build the country, using their individual strengths and talents. It is especially inspiring to see the young men and women who will soon join the thousands of lone soldiers currently serving in the army, each in their own way fulfilling the dreams of their forefathers and strengthening the Jewish nation.”
The flight was facilitated in cooperation with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, the Aliya and Integration Ministry, the Jewish Agency, Jewish National Fund-USA and Tzofim-Garin Tzabar.
The brand-new olim hail from 19 US states and two Canadian provinces, and include 20 families, 64 children and six sets of twins.
Tuesday’s planeload was the second of two Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flights this summer, which, along with 11 group aliya flights, and olim arriving independently, will bring more than 2,000 olim making aliya through Nefesh B’Nefesh from North America.