Our responsibility to new immigrants

These young immigrants, who are ready to contribute to the country’s safety by devoting two or three years of their lives to serving in the army, are not expecting much in return.

August 15, 2012 23:00
3 minute read.
Olim arrive in Israel with Nefesh B'Nefesh

Olim arrive in Israel with Nefesh B'Nefesh . (photo credit: Courtesy Nefesh B'Nefesh)


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Anybody needing a dose of good, old-fashioned Zionism should be required to attend a Nefesh B’Nefesh welcoming ceremony for new immigrants, like the one held on Tuesday morning at Ben- Gurion Airport.

Around 350 olim from North America, including 127 motivated youngsters traveling on their own and about to enlist in the IDF, arrived at the airport’s old Terminal 1 on an El Al flight from New York to a boisterous reception.

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Balloons, flags, singing, dancing, hugging and tears all intermingled as hundreds of families and friends greeted these latest Israelis with warmth, love and appreciation.

That scene has repeated itself dozens of times over the last decade, as Nefesh B’Nefesh – the organization co-founded by Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart which is celebrating its 10th anniversary – has brought over 32,000 North American olim to Israel.

Even more impressive, thanks to extensive post-aliya support provided by the relevant bodies involved – including partners, the Jewish Agency, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, Keren Kayemet Le’Israel-Jewish National Fund, Tzofim, Garin Tzabar and Friends of Israel Defense Forces – 97 percent of the olim have remained in Israel.

Despite the many obstacles and challenges that await the olim – whether it’s adjusting to a new language and culture or finding themselves in the middle of a potential clash between Israel and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear aspirations – they haven’t been dissuaded in their goal of making Israel their home.

“It’s not even in the realm of reasons to move to Israel or not. Iran? Give me a break,” new olah Jamie Geller, author and host of online cooking show Joy of Kosher, told The Jerusalem Post’s Gil Shefler on the El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv on Monday night. That attitude of taking the bad with the good, the given with the uncertain, will certainly be a useful tool for the new immigrants in acclimating to their new environment.

However, the challenges awaiting the immigrants once the initial euphoric glow wears off wasn’t on their minds or on those of the dignitaries welcoming them at the airport ceremony.

The general sentiments of the speeches by everyone from Fass, Gelbart, Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and world chairman of KKL-JNF Effie Stenzler was one of appreciation and thanks to the new immigrants for having the faith in Israel to leave behind their comfortable lives in North America and join us in the grand, ongoing endeavor of rebuilding the Jewish homeland.

“Each of the 350 people that made aliya today have decided to link their personal future with the future of the Jewish state and the Jewish people,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the gathering.

He was speaking to all of the immigrants, mostly consisting of observant families who are settling in all parts of the country. But he was giving special attention to the new IDF soldiers-to-be, who arrived as part of the Garin Tzabar program for lone soldiers, saying that “the new IDF soldiers have also decided to defend the Jewish future – a privilege that wasn’t accorded to previous generations of Jews.”

Many of these idealistic youth are the children of Israelis, who for various reasons decided to make their homes in North America. Their return, the “national effort of kibbutz galuyot – the in-gathering of the exiles,” as Sharansky described it, carries with it just as much responsibility for the host country as it does the new citizen.

These young immigrants, who are ready to contribute to the country’s safety by devoting two or three years of their lives to serving in the army, are not expecting much in return. But what they do deserve is to discover an Israel as idealistic as they are – a moral country with democratic principles that strives for equality, protects human rights and cherishes fundamental freedoms, including those of speech and worship.

Nefesh B’Nefesh has done its part to make their aliya easy, the new immigrants have done their part by actually getting on the plane and coming here. Now it’s up to not only our elected officials, but all of us as well, to live up to their expectations.

May they not be disappointed!

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