Nefesh B’Nefesh brings largest number of future soldiers

85 of 234 new olim brought on chartered plan in aliya group plan to join the IDF.

nefesh olim 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
nefesh olim 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Two-hundred thirty-four new Israeli immigrants – including a record-breaking 85 young adults who have committed to joining the IDF – were welcomed at Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday by Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency.
President Shimon Peres warmly greeted the olim as they disembarked from their 12-hour aliya flight from New York, which was sponsored by the Friends of the IDF and the Garin Tzabar program.
Many of the young adults aboard the plane who plan to serve in the IDF are participating in Garin Tzabar, a course that provides a platform for lone soldiers to connect with their peers and serve their country in the most effective way possible.
The soon-to-be IDF soldiers expressed a profound and well-rounded understanding of the journey they had begun. Brook Katz, a 21-year-old graduate of Johns Hopkins University who is participating in Garin Tzabar, told The Jerusalem Post that she had no doubt that the path she chose would be difficult but rewarding.
“People would tell me, ‘Wow, it’s going to be so hard,’ so many times it could have discouraged me, but I don’t think I am naive about the situation,” Katz said on board the chartered flight. “We know this is what we want to do. We know there will be challenges. We will cry, and there will be times when we want to go home – but this is our home now. We’re not going anywhere.”
Shir Hebron, an 18-year-old high school graduate from San Diego, agreed with the assessment her future army-mate presented.
“Nobody thinks of this as butterflies, flowers and fluffiness – I mean it’s the army, get real,” she stated. “But I feel like without the challenge, what’s the point?”
Hebron hopes to be enrolled one day at the Technion and plans to study engineering, but feels that serving in the IDF is her duty, and would not pass up the opportunity to become a flight-simulation instructor for the Israel Air Force.
“Even though I was not born in Israel, I am still a Jew. I am not exempt from doing my duty as a Jewish person. It is my turn now to serve my country,” Hebron said to the Post.
Katz shared a similar sentiment: “American Jewry sees itself as an extension of Israel – and I know that Israel would be there for me regardless of whether or not I was born there. I have an obligation to serve our country because, at the end of the day, it is our country.”
Yonah Friedman, a 20-year-old originally from Memphis, Tennessee, has been in the army for nearly a year in the Eitan Unit, which searches for missing- in-action personnel. Though he is already in the thick of his army service, his report is as sparkling as that of his peers who are fresh off the boat.
“My favorite thing about the army is that you meet people from all walks of life – and they are all there because they believe in the same thing. They believe in the common goal of serving our country,” Friedman told the Post. “It can be difficult, but you just have to remember that everything will work out in the end – no matter how frustrating.”
While the future soldiers are realistic about the daunting task that lies ahead of them, they are not alone in navigating the course. Along with the assistance that Garin Tzabar provides for the lone soldiers, Nefesh B’Nefesh provides an all-inclusive package for the soldiers who arrive through their organization.
“NBN’s Lone Soldier Aliyah Program is the only program of its kind: We are completely holistic in our approach. We hold their hands during the entire process – pre-, during and post-aliya,” Doreet Freedman, director of development at Nefesh B’Nefesh, told the Post on Tuesday.
“We fly out to meet with those who have expressed interest in making aliya and joining the IDF. We advise the soldiers, we engage their parents, we fly out senior IDF officers to interface and open doors for them, and we facilitate charter flights – whereby we do all their aliya processing en route, and bring them as a group together to Israel,” Freedman said.
“Once the soldiers arrive and enlist, we send them packages. We call and SMS regularly. We arrange buddy families for them, we find places for them on shabbatot and hagim [festivals] and, of course, offer them financial grants,” Freedman said, underlining that the process aimed to assist not only the soldiers’ aliya, but also their absorption into Israeli life – during their years in the IDF and beyond.
“Nefesh B’Nefesh puts a significant financial focus on the Lone Soldier Aliyah Program,” Freedman said, adding that “NBN understands that the Lone Soldier olim are the next generation of Israeli leadership, and what can be more inspirational than partnering in such a significant process? There is no better net return on one’s investment than the sponsorship of an NBN lone soldier.”
The soldiers can also turn to another organization, Friends of the IDF – which partnered for the first time with Nefesh B’Nefesh for the August 2 chartered flight – when they are in need of assistance.
“The FIDF tries to inspire and encourage support for the IDF, whether it’s in the way of advocacy or financial support – or any other way that’s necessary for Israeli soldiers,” Rabbi Isaac Jeret, chairman of the FIDF National Rabbinic Cabinet, told the Post.
The FIDF has various programs available for Israeli soldiers, ranging from financial aid packages to social activities. Their Dignity program provides financial support for soldiers in need, and is often extended to the soldiers’ families. The Impact program, currently supporting over 2,500 students, provides a higher-education scholarship for recently released combat soldiers. The group’s Lone Soldier program provides soldiers with various social opportunities, such as “fun days” that they host for over 1,800 lone soldiers. They also sponsor flights back to the soldiers’ hometowns so they can visit the family they left behind.
“The army takes care of what it needs to do militarily; that’s its job. But our motto is, ‘They take care of Israel, we take care of them’ – and we take care of them in that framework,” Jeret told the Post. “Anything they could possibly need to enhance their individual lives – such as a gym or financial scholarships for university – that is what we are there for.”
Jeret believes that the FIDF’s work not only bolsters the lives of the soldiers, and in turn Israeli society as a whole, but has a deep impact on American society.
“This is the single best way to inspire young Jews – and older Jews – in America, to reclaim the notion of people-hood,” Jeret said. “Our relation to people-hood has been weakened in America; we blend in there – we are comfortable. But seeing the soldiers in their uniforms, seeing them make the sacrifices they make every day – it reminds people that there is a whole other entity that we are a part of. We may be American, but ‘American’ is the adjective and ‘Jew’ is the noun.”
Maurice Sanderman, the FIDF’s national vice president, and Julian Josephson, currently chairman of the FIDF San Diego board and vice president of the National FIDF board of directors, share Jeret’s opinion.
“The soldiers are the best ambassadors,” said Josephson. “They put their money where their mouth is – they say, ‘This is something I believe in, and this is what I am going to do.’ And that brings a fresh face to how the Israeli population is perceived. It shows the importance of Israel to a Jew, and it builds a relatable bridge between the United States and Israel.”
The national director of FIDF, Maj.- Gen. Yitzhak Gershon (res.), addressed the newly Israeli population during the welcome ceremony at Ben-Gurion and assured them that “the decision you have made will make Israel stronger – Israel is our only homeland.”
Besides Peres, the hundreds of guests and new olim were greeted at the airport by Eli Cohen, the director of immigration and absorption at the Jewish Agency; Daniel J. Katz, president of Friends of Israel Scouts; Nefesh B’Nefesh vice chairman Erez Halfon; and Nefesh B’Nefesh cofounders Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart.
Singer Rami Kleinstein, who made aliya from the US at age eight, serenaded the group as new oleh Ezra Kaplan ascended the stage to receive his Israeli ID card from Peres. Kaplan later told the Post that he was fulfilling a longtime dream of joining the IDF, and that his main concern with the move was the food.
“I seem to be allergic to Israel,” he joked, as he is allergic to sesame seeds, chickpeas, peanuts and seeds – eliminating Israeli staples tehina, humous, Bamba and sunflower seeds from his diet.
However the new immigrant and future IDF soldier was chipper as he left the auditorium.
“I want to make the most of everything I experience,” he said. “I want to take each day as it comes – I love Israel.”