Some 350 new immigrants from North America — including five sets of twins and two sets of triplets — were welcomed personally by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday morning. “I’m proud of you,” the prime minister told the group. “We’re all proud of you. Friends of Israel, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, are all proud of you.”
The new arrivals on the special Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight were greeted with song, dance and a number of very short, but warm speeches by several dignitaries, including the prime minister and the Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky.
“How many of your grandfathers and great-grandfathers dreamed of this?” Sharansky asked the newcomers. “You are closing the circle.”
Nefesh B’Nefesh is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2001 in order to help North American and British Jews make aliya (immigrate to Israel). Its first aliya flight took place in 2002.
The group arrival on Tuesday was organized in conjunction with the Friends of the IDF.
Sharansky told the immigrants that there is no difference between the ancient history of the Jewish people and the lives of those living here today. Israel is not a country built by others, but rather “together we are all… building the state.”
Emceeing the ceremony was Nefesh B’Nefesh vice president Danny Oberman. He welcomed the 351 new Israelis, noting that the group included 93 children and 154 singles,127 of whom will now enlist in the IDF.
Executive director and co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, who joined the immigrants on their flight, said that when it comes to inspiration about Israel, “it’s pretty hard to beat the Jumbo aliya flight.” Fass referred to the new immigrants as true heroes, “dedicated to building Israel.”
The other co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Tony Gelbart, said that when the new immigrants looked at all of the posters hanging in the arrivals hall, they would see all of the partners that played a part in Tuesday’s flight. “The biggest thanks that you can give [our partners] is making aliya,” Gelbart said.
Minister of Immigrant Absorption MK Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beytenu) said the fact that 350 people have just come to Israel means that “Am Yisrael Chai!” (“the People of Israel live!”). Landver acknowledged that the new immigrants left their homes and a more comfortable life in America, “and I welcome you with blessings. I welcome you with hugs,” Landver said. “May you continue with your new lives in the Land of Israel. Continue together with us.”
Among the other speakers welcoming the group were Pinchas Zoaretz, the deputy director of the Friends of the IDF; Eliezer Shkedi, CEO of El Al airlines, who provided the flight; and Eli Ben Yosef, chairman of the Israeli Scouts, whose Garin Tzabar was one of the co-organizers of the flight.
The Jewish National Fund (JNF) was also an organizer of Tuesday’s flight. JNF chairman Effie Stenzler told the immigrants that “there are places in the world much easier to live than in Israel, but nowhere else will you feel as comfortable. Because here you are at home.”
Netanyahu was the final speaker of the ceremony. When he arrived, emcee Oberman quipped that the prime minister was reluctant to join in the festivities, because he already has 7 million people telling him how to run the country.
Speaking first in Hebrew, Netanyahu welcomed the newcomers, in particular those who will now be enlisting in the IDF. He spoke of his administration’s commitment to the security of Israel, and discussed Tuesday morning’s appointment of former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter to the position of minister of Home Front Defense. Netanyahu praised Dichter as someone who had always worked for the security of Israel, and would now be doing so again.
Switching to English, the prime minister joined the chorus in warmly welcoming the immigrants. Listing many of the two dozen or so cities within the United States and Canada from which the immigrants came, he said, “This is the land where we all come from. This is the place where our identity was forged.”
As he did in Hebrew, Netanyahu singled out the 127 new immigrants who will now enlist in the IDF. Every new arrival is here doing something special, he said, “but you’ve decided to do something else. You’ve decided to defend the Jewish state.” In past generations, Jews were unable to defend themselves, but that is no longer the case, and he commended the future soldiers for deciding to “practise personally” that ability.
Following the prime minster’s remarks, 19-year-old twins Barak and Ro’i Gaibel were invited to join Netanyahu and Landver on the stage to personally receive their new Israeli identity cards. The Gaibels were one of five sets of twins and two sets of triplets who were part of Tuesday’s arrival.
Afterwards, the 127 IDF soldiers-to-be were invited to join the prime minister on the stage in singing Israel’s national anthem “Hatikvah” (The Hope).
More than 4,800 American, Canadian and British Jews have made, or will be making, aliya this year, which marks Nefesh B’Nefesh’s 10th anniversary.
JTA contributed to this report.