Despite Gaza conflict, planeload of American immigrants arrives

Special ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport welcomed 338 Nefesh B'Nefesh new olim from the US and Canada to Israel.

Despite the ongoing military conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip more than 3,400 immigrants arrived over the past few weeks, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky announced on Tuesday.Speaking to more than 300 arrivals from the United States at a Nefesh B’Nefesh ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport, Sharansky and other political figures expressed admiration at the decision of those living a comfortable life abroad to come to Israel during a time of war and violence.“I don’t know of any other country in the world where the president of the state [can be found] waiting for new immigrants under the plane at the airport,” Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar told the crowd, referring to President Reuven Rivlin.“They say the United States is the land of unlimited opportunities,” he said, adding that Israel is really such a place.“Almost each of is, if not a new immigrant, the son of a new immigrant. I am the son of an immigrant who came from Argentina 49 years ago and every immigrant and their sons and daughters can reach any place in our open society,” he said.Immigrants, Sa’ar added, “ensure the future of the people of Israel here in the Land of Israel.”The war was a recurrent leitmotif during the ceremony, which started with a warning played over loudspeakers informing participants of where to take cover in the event of a missile strike “When Israel is being attacked and you young Jews come to Israel you tell our enemies that they will never succeed in bending our spirit or driving us away. You are coming to stand up for our future,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a prerecorded greeting.The IDF has had to prevent many of its soldiers from escaping from hospitals to rejoin their units fighting in Gaza and just as “nobody expected anything from them and could have sat on the sidelines in quiet and comfort,” nobody expected anything from the immigrants, said Nefesh B’Nefesh head, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass.“No one expected you to come. You didn’t have to join, but you, just like those soldiers, understand the commitment and love of this land and to its future,” he said.Over 100 of the immigrants are slated to join the army in the coming months, descending from their plane wearing green T-shirts indicating their status as “IDF immigrants.”Addressing the prospective soldiers, many of whom are coming to Israel through the Garin Tzabar program run by the Israel Scouts, scouts head Eli Ben Yosef said that Israel is in the midst of a “real war.”Quoting the Hagada, Ben Yosef said that “in every generation they stand against us to destroy us and God saves us from their hands.”“I say that you are the salvation that God sends us,” he told those soon to be inducted.“Israel is my life,” Reno Hoffman, 21, of Orange County, California, told The Jerusalem Post. “Everyone is against Israel and this is our country.”He hopes to join the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal), and said that one of his cousins was wounded in Gaza and is recovering from a gunshot wound to the leg.Danielle Shushan, 20, from Queens, New York, said that while she will not be drafted until November she is happy to come now when “the country needs defending.”“I am very excited. I love Israel,” she told the Post.David Weiss, a veteran immigrant on a 24-hour pass from reserve duty and still wearing his combat fatigues, said that recently he was in the field taking part in counterterror operations. He came with his wife and children to greet his in-laws.Four generations of his wife’s family were arriving, he said.