Aliyah During Wartime

JERUSALEM — David and Helaine Brenner had a real Israeli welcome last week, as they prepared to leave Ben-Gurion International Airport to embark on their new lives as Israeli citizens. They ducked for cover and fled from an approaching rocket fired from the Gaza Strip.

Fresh off the special El Al flight chartered by Nefesh B’Nefesh that brought 228 new immigrants from North America to the Jewish state, the couple and their two young boys — who have spent the last several years living in Baltimore — were loading up the free cab provided by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption when the air-raid siren’s high-pitched wail pierced the calm, morning air.

“Our kids didn’t even hear it,” Helaine Brenner, 45, said with a smile of her children, Lior, 13, and Tovia, 11. “We just ushered them to the shelter with everybody else and waited out the attack.”

The rocket, likely intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, came as part of a morning barrage July 22 that prompted the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States, responding to another rocket that exploded in the town of Yehud just one mile away, to ban all flights by American operators either arriving to or departing from Israel’s central airport for little more than a day.

But two days later, as she sat with her husband and children to receive their Israeli identity cards at a Nefesh B’Nefesh ceremony at Jerusalem’s international convention center, Brenner took the whole experience in stride.

“Our second siren was the next day when we were in the rental car planning to grab something to eat,” the preschool teacher at the former Yeshivat Rambam day school said. “We pulled over, walked into a shoe store, and the staff there helped us into the shelter.”

That Brenner, who until this week belonged to Suburban Orthodox Congregation, could rattle off such details so matter-of-factly, might have appeared remarkable were it not for the similar experiences of so many others on that Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, the organization’s 51st such charter. William and Tanya Mann, a mid-50s African-American couple who converted to Judaism before deciding to make aliyah, told of scurrying to shelter the minute they arrived in their new hometown of Beersheba in Israel’s south.

“There were two rockets, and we had maybe 45 seconds. We didn’t even make it” to the bunker, said William Mann, formerly of Riverdale, N.Y. “We heard the boom” of the Iron Dome missiles intercepting the weaponry.

Before they left New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport last week, members of the immigrant group acknowledged the risk of making aliyah during a time of war. But according to Nefesh B’Nefesh founder Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, not a single person chose to cancel or even delay his or her plans after Israel embarked on its Operation Protective Edge to stop attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The last time the private organization, which contracts with the Israeli government to coordinate all immigration from North America, brought a flight of immigrants during wartime was in 2006 during the second Lebanon war, said Fass. When the rockets from Gaza started falling, “we anticipated the extra jitters and that [the immigrants] would be bombarded [by family and friends] with extra questions, extra scrutiny; so proactively, we reached out to provide more strength and encouragement to them.”

Also read, Economic Impact.

The Brenners didn’t feel any pressure to change their minds in the days and weeks leading up to their move, said David Brenner.

Making aliyah, he stressed, was a lifelong dream, one reinforced during the 14 years of his marriage. A layoff three years ago gave him the opportunity to go into business for himself, and a trip last summer to Jerusalem convinced him that he could continue his work from abroad.

“We made the firm decision about a year ago,” he related. “After that, everything fell into place.”

The family had no trouble selling their home, and a fortuitous connection pointed them in the direction of a rental home in Alon Shvut that was priced “exactly according to our budget,” said Helaine Brenner.

Divine providence, they both agreed, made everything possible, but it was their Zionist beliefs that provided the drive.

“Within our family, the reason [to move] is to leave a life for our children, [a life] we hope will have meaning,” said Helaine Brenner. “But well beyond that, we feel like the State of Israel is vital to the Jewish people, and we feel like it’s our present and it’s our future.”

Rabbi Shmuel Jablon similarly said he and his wife, Becky, moved their family from Philadelphia to Efrat for their five children, ages 8 months to 17 years, as much as to fulfill a lifelong dream.

“After so many years of us speaking Hebrew to the kids, we figured that 2,000 years of exile is enough,” said Jablon. “It’s time to come home.”

His 9-year-old son, Akiva, was less philosophical, saying that he was looking forward to the Little League baseball in Efrat — a community of more than 9,000 people in the Judean Mountains of the West Bank. But he looked up from his iPad game (also baseball) to admit that he was “very excited.”

His eldest sister, Leah, said that she saw in her family’s move a message to Jewish people everywhere.

“If there’s something holding them back” from making aliyah, “if they’re nervous about missing out on opportunities in America,” she said, “they should know that Israel really is the land of opportunities.”

Turning to the security situation, their father was defiant.

“We had no intention of giving Hamas a victory by delaying aliyah for even a day,” said the rabbi, an educator who used to work for Torah Academy in suburban Philadelphia. “It’s our land, our state, and we’re not changing our plans for terrorists.

Record Summer of North American Olim Volunteering to Enlist in IDF

Nefesh B'Nefesh - 08.13.2013This summer’s second charter Aliyah flight from the USA took off today, Monday, August 12th, bringing some 331 new Olim to Israel – including 125 young men and women who will be joining the IDF. The special Nefesh B’Nefesh flight was organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, Tzofim Garin Tzabar. Today’s Olim are American, Canadian and British Jews.

Also on board the jubilee charter flight are 41 families, including 88 children. The passenger list also included 92 Olim moving to Israel’s periphery as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh and Keren Kayemeth L’Israel Go North and Go South programs.


Nefesh B’Nefesh

The Dorn family is leaving Kemp Mill to start a new life in Israel. Pushing luggage piled high on carts, Ian and Gali Dorn and their three boys made aliyah July 22.

Marietta and Nissan Jaffee made aliyah on Monday through Nefesh B'Nefesh.

Marietta and Nissan Jaffee made aliyah on Monday through Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Neither Ian Dorn nor his wife had a job awaiting them in Israel.

“I am going on pure faith,” he said, adding he is worried about providing for his family and realizes he may not remain an architect in his new country.

Gali Dorn is an Israeli with lots of family there, and they seem more than anxious to join them and especially enjoy the numerous kosher restaurants everywhere.

Dorn is proud that someday his son’s will all serve in the Israeli army, although like any parent, he hopes it’s not during wartime.

He is worried about terrorism, noting that violence anywhere can be frightening. However, he said, “I don’t want to live my life worrying.”

The Dorns are five of the 231 new Israelis that joined Nefesh B’Nefesh’s 49th charter flight. Making aliyah last Monday were 31 families, nine couples, 106 children and 47 single people, 11 of whom will be joining IDF.

They came from 31 states. The youngest one was two months, the oldest 78 years. Some had dreamed of making aliyah for as long as they can remember, others were still a bit in shock that they were actually starting a new life in Israel.

Also making aliyah was Yaakov Lipman and his wife, Ahuva. He said he was sure “the time is right” to move from Kemp Mill to Israel.

Their four children, who range in age from eight to 12, are starting to get older, explained his wife. The family has spent much of the past two summers living in Israel and has already begun the transition.

“It’s where we belong,” Ahuva Lipman said. He husband agreed, noting, “The question always was why don’t we go” and not why should we go.

Still, Yaakov Lipman said, “There will be difficult parts, like anything else. We have faith that since our reasons are good, Hashem will take care of us.”

They have family already in Israel including his cousin, Knesset member Dov Lipman.

Their son, 11-year old Naftali, had a big grin and a thumbs up before declaring the whole family wanted to come.

Yonatav and Hannah Beker live in D.C. and met when they both attended an AIPAC conference four years ago. The next year, they were married in Israel.

Yonatav is from Israel and has only lived in the states for six years. But Hannah grew up in New Mexico and has only been to Israel twice. They plan to live with his family for a short time until they can find a place to rent.

He already landed a job and will be a director of communications at Teva Pharmaceuticals. His wife will be going through to Ulpan to be immersed in Hebrew and admitted to having “a lot of anxiety about learning the language.”

Israel “is the best place to start a family,” Yonatav Beker said. “We are really looking forward to starting a new life” with their nine-month-old daughter, Ella.

His wife agreed, adding that their daughter will be among cousins and other children, enjoying “the whole Jewish experience.”

Marietta and Nissan Jaffee of Baltimore are fulfilling a “long time dream,” she said, adding that one daughter already lives in Israel and her son will be studying there soon. Another son is remaining in Baltimore.

As she spoke, her husband concentrated on the Hebrew language tapes he was listening to. He is retired from government work, but said he hopes to use his experience as a massage therapist. She has been a teacher for close to 25 years and hopes to find work in that field.

“My husband has been wanting to go to Israel for the last 30 years. He had to bring me along, but I am now so ready,” Marietta Jaffee declared. She said she plans to “just dive into life there,” and go through Ulpan absorption class to learn Hebrew.

Also on the flight was Rabbi Jeremy Stern, president of ORA, Organization for the Resolution of Agunot. While moving with his wife and three children, he will still keep his position and open an ORA office in Israel. He expects to return to the New York office frequently.

Stern said he dreamed of living in Israel “since we got married and before,” and will life in Efrat.

In New York, he spends $24,000 a year for his four, three and one year old to attend half-day nursery school. In Israel, his children’s schooling will be free, he said happily.

The flight to Israel was free to all making aliyah as well as the several reporters invited to witness, compliments of the Jewish Agency.

With this flight, Nefesh B’Nefesh has started 35,000 people on their new lives in Israel. They ease people through paperwork and government bureaucracy and guide them through housing, education and career decisions.

The government’s Ministry of Absorption provides six months of financial help for the new olim. The amount depends on the number of people in the family and begins at 18,000 shekels for six months for a single person.

The organization held a short ceremony in the New York airport before sending everyone into the security lines. Official after official welcomed the olim home, promising they will not be alone.

But the biggest spontaneous applause and appreciation went to former prisoner of war Gilad Shalit, who spent five years in captivity after being kidnapped by Hamas. He uttered no words, just smiled and waved. He graciously agreed to have his photo taken with many people and shyly shook his head when asked if he would speak to this reporter.

The ceremony at Ben Gurion was more elaborate and emotional. Hundreds cheered, waved flags and sang songs as everyone disembarked from the plane. Speaker after speaker welcomed everyone home.

Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel , told everyone to “open the Bible. Now it is your tourist guide.”

Dov Lipman, who made aliyah from Silver Spring in 2004, welcomed all to “the magic kingdom,” and told them there had been wrongly told that the Disney World was the real magic kingdom.

Following the lengthy flight and numerous speeches, everyone gathered up their large duffel bags and other luggage and headed out to their new home.