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A plane full of 200 English-speaking olim from across the United States and Canada landed at Ben-Gurion Airport Tuesday morning, on a flight organized by the Nefesh B'Nefesh aliya organization.
They were greeted by Immigrant Absorption Minister Ya'acov Edri (Kadima), who addressed the crowd in Hebrew, not a language that most present understood.
Gabi Krauss, a new Israeli from Massachusetts, was "frustrated" she could not understand the speech of the minister who is supposed to be the face of aliya. She called his appointment as minister in early July "a poor choice."
"He should be speaking English. It is really important," she said.
Not all of the new immigrants had the same outlook. "It is not a problem at all," said Baruch Swinkin from New Jersey. "We arrived in the Land of Israel, not America, and Hebrew is part of the culture."
Asked if knowledge of English was an important asset for an Immigrant Absorption Minister, Edri said there were many other officials who spoke English within the ministry.
Nefesh B'Nefesh plans to bring five more charter flights with Western immigrants to Israel this summer. Since Nefesh B'Nefesh began operating in 2001, the number of olim from the US and Canada has risen by approximately 80 percent, with 3,500-4,000 North American olim projected to arrive in 2007, according to Nefesh B'Nefesh spokesman Charley Levine.
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor) and MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) also spoke to the crowd, this time in fluent English. Among the new arrivals was a 90-year-old World War II veteran who came with his family and a 250-year-old Torah rescued from Poland before being brought to Israel.
The olim were met by hundreds of people waving Israeli flags and a large group of teenage girls from the National Conference of Synagogue Youth dancing and singing Israeli songs.