Flight LY3004 from New York was not just another regular El Al flight. Its passengers were neither tourists visiting the holy land, nor were they Israelis returning from a trip abroad. They were Jewish people from the USA and Canada, who had decided to buy one way tickets to Israel and make aliyah.
Upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport on July 12, 2012, the 229 new immigrants were welcomed at a gala ceremony attended by the Minister of Absorption, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency and the KKL-JNF World Chairman. They were also received by 800 guests, including relatives, friends and IDF soldiers.
It was the first flight this summer of the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization, which facilitates aliyah from western countries. Since its establishment a decade ago, Nefesh B’Nefesh immigrants from USA, Canada and England have numbered about 30,000.
This year, Nefesh B’Nefesh has started working with KKL-JNF in order to encourage new immigrants to settle in the Negev and the Galilee, and indeed, among the newcomers who had just arrived, there were some who had chosen to live in the northern and southern reaches of Israel, such as the Hanssen family from Denver, Colorado, who arrived with their four children with the intention of making their home in the town of Eshchar in the Galilee.
The happy members of the Hanssen family were called to the stage to receive their immigrant ID card. The other immigrants would go through the regular Ministry of Absorption procedure after the ceremony.
“Together with you, we will march toward a better future for Israel,” said Absorption Minister Sofa Landver to the new immigrants. Each of the speakers at the ceremony was introduced by a boy or a girl who had made aliyah within the last few years.
KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler said that KKL-JNF has been preparing the country for immigrants for more than 110 years. “There is no greater joy than to see our brothers and sisters coming to live in Israel,” he said, “and we are happy that today, among the new olim, there are some who have chosen to live in Negev and the Galilee.”
KKL-JNF World Co-Chairman Eli Aflalo said, “New immigrants are the people who actualize true Zionism.”
The oldest new immigrant on the flight was eighty-six years old, and the youngest one was six months old and would be taking his first steps in Israel. Ninety-nine of the new immigrants were children and youth. Thirteen of the new immigrants were going to enlist in the IDF upon immigration. Fifty-nine of the new immigrants were singles who will hopefully establish beautiful families in Israel.
Not only people arrived on the flight but also six dogs, who were wished success in their immigration and quick acceptance by their new, Israeli, four-legged friends.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky began with a joke. “When I was a prisoner of Zion, they would say, “What is Zionism? Zionism is when Jews in America help Jews in Russia to emigrate to Israel.” On a more serious note, Sharansky said that “after the fall of the iron curtain, the Jews of North America are proving that there is also no gold curtain preventing Jews from returning to their homeland.”
Among the new immigrants from the USA, we met Nitzan Avisar, 21, who had arrived on her own from Los Angeles. Her parents and her brother had remained in the USA, but she hopes they will join her in the future. “My friends in America never thought they would ever get to Israel. Now they have no choice. They have to come and visit me,” she said, with a smile. She was with her new Israeli friend, Maya Kanpol, 23, who had made aliyah from Pennsylvania. “I visited Israel many times,” she said, “but this time it feels different and special. I’m not here as a tourist but as an Israeli citizen.”
Nefesh B’Nefesh Executive Director Rabbi Yehoshua Fass said that “every new immigrant is a miracle, no matter where he or she comes from, and today there are 229 miracles here.”
In the airport arrivals terminal, where the ceremony took place, Nefesh B’Nefesh Chairman Tony Gelbart quoted President Shimon Peres, who once said, “When new immigrants land, the State of Israel takes off.”
“You have made the right decision,” said Member of Knesset and Chairman of the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee Danny Danon to the new immigrants.
Devorah Friedlander, who was making aliyah with her husband and their three daughters, absolutely agreed with the MK. “The decision to leave the USA was a hard one,” she said, “but we are sure it was the right one. Our friends and relatives said we were crazy, but we explained to them that Israel is our land, and we were going there to make it stronger.”
The new immigrants dispersed to go to their 27 destinations all over Israel, to cities, kibbutzim and moshavim, from Eilat in the south to Nahariya in the north. A moment before they left the airport for the hot and complicated reality of Israel, the new olim received a green and gracious gift from the KKL-JNF representatives, either a myrtle plant or a miniature olive tree, both of which came with warm wishes for the newcomers, that they should grow deep roots in Israel, just like the trees they were taking with them.