'I realized how short life is'

220 immigrants arrive on Nefesh B'Nefesh charter flight from New York.

nefesh B-G 88 (photo credit: )
nefesh B-G 88
(photo credit: )
Bobbie Lichlenberg, 53, has wanted to make aliya since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Now, she has finally done it. "I realized how short life is," she said, while describing her first time in Israel 34 years ago. "I was determined to live life." Lichlenberg joined 220 olim on an aliya charter flight from New York that landed Tuesday morning at Ben-Gurion International Airport. The flight was the summer's first of six for Nefesh B'Nefesh, a non-profit organization aimed at boosting aliya from Western countries. North American immigration is projected to reach between 3,500-4,000 people by the end of 2007, up from 3,174 in 2006, said Nefesh B'Nefesh spokesman Charley Levine. Levine added that about 15,000 Western Jews have begun the process of aliya paperwork in Nefesh B'Nefesh's database. Throngs of screaming, dancing guests - ranging from the ultra-Orthodox to IDF soldiers - welcomed the olim amid balloons and Israeli flags. One man blew a shofar. "Heivenu Shalom Alechem" blared from loudspeakers. Yoni Berg, 30, welcomed 14 cousins, who were "finally coming to join me," he said. A resident of Efrat, Berg made aliya five years ago. Other guests came with no family to greet - just enthusiasm for the new Israelis. "I've tried to come to almost every Nefesh B'Nefesh landing," said Shulamit Ne'eman, who made aliya with her family 35 years ago on a stormy 16-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Aliya is "very different" now, she quipped. "I come not because anyone we know is coming, but because it's a special experience," she said. "Maybe we do know somebody, you never know," added her husband, Yehoshua. Dozens of teenage girls in Israel for the summer as part of a program from the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) welcomed the olim by dancing the hora near the tarmac. One counselor painted her face with an Israeli flag. Another wore a shirt that said, "Mazel tov - I'm jealous." Amid the giddy spirit, olim also described the challenges of making aliya. "I'm sad because I lost all my friends," said Sam Cogan, 10, who made aliya with his family. Berg agreed. "It was difficult. I missed [my family]," he said. What eased the transition, he added, was "the feeling of being in the right place." Eight of the new immigrants will join the IDF. Chen Ifhar, from New Jersey, decided to enlist "to give my share and serve my country." In an airport ceremony, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (Kadima) addressed the olim. "We are one family," she said. "Aliya sends a clear message to our enemies - Ahmadinejad in Iran, Nasrallah in Lebanon, and Hamas - that Israel is strong." Nefesh B'Nefesh officials also honored Menachem Aloof, a Holocaust survivor who came to mandatory Palestine in 1947 and recently passed away. "The Hagana handed him a gun and said, 'Go fight,'" said his daughter, Ruthie, who still wears his Star of David necklaces. He moved back to the US after marrying, and now Ruthie and her family have made aliya in his memory. At the ceremony, her son, Dov, 10, held a poster with a picture of his grandfather in uniform. "Our legacy is your right," the poster said.