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Reflecting over his feelings in the last few days, Danny Rebuck, 36, originally from London, said he had felt "a bit of apprehension, then a bit of euphoria, a real mixture of emotions. Yet now I feel very relaxed."
For Rebuck, who made aliya Wednesday with 250 others on the last flight this year organized by the North American aliya assistance group Nefesh B'Nefesh, the moment of arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport ushered in a sense of relief and optimism not felt in months.
Rebuck outran Hurricane Katrina by riding his bike 40 kilometers to catch the last flight out of New Orleans. After the hurricane destroyed the city, including his home and most of his possessions, Rebuck stayed in a Miami hotel for nine days with just one change of clothes. He returned to what used to be his home for a two-week period without electricity or running water, and decided to make aliya barely a month and a half before the flight. It is understandable that he now feels relaxed.
After losing his possessions and his business coaching and managing a soccer club of 100 children, Rebuck, who said he thought of coming here before, said the decision was now easy for him. "I started to look at things a bit differently," he said. "I wanted to come to Israel for a long time, but this truly felt like the door was opening for me."
"It's very heartwarming that so many people are welcoming us like this," Rebuck said of the hundreds who sang and danced to welcome the new olim at the airport.
The atmosphere of celebration has become tradition at the arrival of Nefesh B'Nefesh flights over the last few years. The group has brought over 7,000 North American immigrants since its inception in 2001 and continues to aid olim after their arrival. Assistance is provided through financial assistance, help in finding employment and social networking.
According to the group, over 3,100 North American Jews arrived here in 2005 through Nefesh B'Nefesh, which works in close cooperation with the Jewish Agency. This is the highest number of new immigrants from North America since 1983, and the first year since 1999 that aliya as a whole has increased, said Josh Schwarcz, Secretary-General of the Jewish Agency.
Included among the other immigrants were Yosef and Hadassah Bitzur whose three children made aliya a year and a half ago, and who had not seen them during that time. "We feel safe now," Yoseph Bitzur said. "After a month of living with friends after our lease ran out, now we are finally home, together with our children and whole family."
Welcoming the new immigrants at the ceremony was Deputy Minister of the Interior, Ruhama Avraham, former Chairman of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and the Diaspora, Zvi Hendel, Schwarcz, and cofounders of Nefesh B'Nefesh, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart.