The Human Spirit: In their merit

Thanks to NBN, the aliya process is at least a rose garden with most of the thorns removed.

barbara sofer 88 (photo credit: )
barbara sofer 88
(photo credit: )
That old cliche "everyone is replaceable" is wrong. No one is replaceable, not to his family or in this world. In this Hebrew month of Elul, when we traditionally engage in heightened retrospection and personal reckoning, we are exquisitely aware of the uniqueness of each person. Still, we cannot help but rejoice as new life replenishes the old. The final summer flight of Nefesh B'Nefesh, the organization founded in 2001, during the nadir of the intifada, landed at Ben-Gurion Airport last week. The number of immigrants this organization has brought is indeed impressive. This summer NBN reports 3,000 immigrants, among them 40 doctors and 32 families moving to the North through the new "Go North" program. Nefesh B'Nefesh has come up with bureaucracy-busting technology and human support to ease the aliya process so that if it's not exactly a glide path, at least it's a rose garden with most of the thorns removed. NEFESH B'NEFESH means "soul for soul." In his grief over the murder of a relative in a terrorist bombing, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass conceived the idea of an organization that would streamline the aliya process and encourage more Jews to move to Israel. The numbers tell only a small part of that soulful story. Let's take, for example, the story of two immigrant families who arrived this summer. Two years ago, Sabrina and Lloyd Ziff were living in Edgware, London. They were concerned for Israel, but they'd never brought their three daughters here for a visit. Sabrina was running a successful property management company and her husband Lloyd worked as a kosher poultry grower and distributor. Their daughters attended an excellent Jewish day school. Then on July 2, 2008, a Palestinian terrorist driving a bulldozer plowed into cars and pedestrians on Jerusalem's Jaffa Road. Jean Relevy, 68, of Jerusalem was one of three persons murdered in that terror attack. He was Sabrina's uncle. Sabrina remembered him fondly, but she hadn't seen him for at least 15 years. He was the youngest of her father's siblings, one of seven children who'd fled with their family from Persia to India, and then eventually to Israel. Sabrina's parents had moved to England, where she grew up. "I'm close with my father," said Sabrina, "And when I saw him weeping for the first time, something happened inside me." Like a seed germinating, an idea began to grow. "I was always a Zionist, but I'd read the community news first in the Jewish Chronicle. Something shifted. Suddenly, I was on-line constantly at The Jerusalem Post site." The "oh, so you're Jewish" of people trying to figure out where her Mediterranean looks came from began to grate on her. The anti-Israel reaction in England to Operation Cast Lead began to sicken her. She marched in the pro-Israel rally in Trafalgar Square. "I followed with great despair the failed efforts to free Gilad Schalit even though Israel was offering so much. Even though we lived far away, we always had a feeling in our family that we would be there for each other no matter what. I began asking myself what I was doing in England. Lloyd and I decided it was time to make a move." They wanted to come this summer. They phoned Nefesh B'Nefesh. IN STATEN Island, New York, Yehudah and Aviva Zuller's family were undergoing a similar process. Three years ago, Yehudah was running a busy printing company and also collecting funds for terror victims in Israel. Aviva was pregnant with their fourth child. Then, on June 25, 2006 Gilad Schalit was kidnapped. "I was caught up in the details of the story, checking the Web constantly," said Aviva. On July 1 their fourth child, a son, was born. In the delivery room, the doctor asked what they'd call their baby. Their older son Binyamin had been named for a grandfather who survived Auschwitz. "I have to consult with my wife, but I have a name in mind," Yehudah said. Aviva nodded to him. She'd guessed that he wanted to call their dark-haired baby Gilad. She liked the idea. Their baby, like the kidnapped soldier, would be Gilad ben Aviva. Zuller sent Noam and Aviva Schalit an e-mail telling them of Gilad's birth, stressing that they'd named their son "in Gilad's honor, not his memory." "I was afraid he'd think - here's this guy from America who doesn't know me. What's he naming his son Gilad for?" But the Schalits wrote back warmly and the families have met numerous times since, both in the US and in Israel. "The strength of the connection intensified our back-burner desire to move to Israel." They wanted to come this summer. They, too, phoned Nefesh B'Nefesh. The Zullers have settled in Ma'aleh Adumim. Their three older children have started school there. Gilad, three, is in nursery school, learning Hebrew fast. He tells other little kids that he was named "in honor of Gilad Schalit." "Each of his birthdays is bittersweet," said Yehudah. "We're delighted he's growing up so nicely, but increasingly sad that so much time has gone by since Gilad Schalit was kidnapped." The Ziffs have set up home in Ra'anana. Daughters Natalya, nine, Tamara, six, and Stephanie, four, have begun the school year in a country they never visited until this summer. "It's a bit of a challenge to be there by 8 a.m. and we're just getting used to school on Sundays," said Ziff. "But in my bubble back in England, I didn't realize people were living this incredible life here. I feel I'm living the Torah every day. "When I landed I burst into tears, thinking that my parents had made a mistake by living in the Diaspora, and feeling I was fixing it by coming home. I looked up and said a few words to Uncle Jean. They killed you, Dear Uncle, but we're here now - all five of us, to replace you. More and more of us will come. It's in your merit." Nefesh by nefesh, truly a soul for a soul.