A homecoming for Olim
Elissa Einhorn first wanted to make aliyah (emigrate to Israel) 30 years ago, but her late father, a Holocaust survivor who was convinced America was the best place in the world, didn’t support her dream.
So, the 56-year-old writer from Sacramento stifled the urge to relocate to the Jewish homeland until last summer when, on a mission to Israel with Honest Reporting, a media watchdog that monitors coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, her desire to make aliyah was rekindled.
“I was surprised that all those emotions came back after 30 years, so I just decided to really think about whether I can really do this. I’m not a young person anymore, and, uh,” she said, beginning to cry as she spoke onboard an Aug. 17 chartered Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, “it’s just unbelievable I’m on this plane.”
Founded in 2001, Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) facilitates aliyah for people from North America and the United Kingdom. The organization works with numerous agencies, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Immigration Absorption, and the Jewish National Fund-USA in making the aliyah process as smooth as possible. The organization crossed the threshold of bringing its 50,000th oleh (immigrant) on last week’s charter flight.
From left: San Fernando Valley residents Lidor Asulin, Natalie Rubinstein and Tamir Marom were among those onboard the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. Photo by Ryan Torok
The plane, which departed New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) on Aug. 16, carried 223 olim (people making aliyah) who, incuding Einhorn, have followed through with their wish of moving to Israel. The plane landed in Israel at Ben Gurion International Airport on the morning of Aug. 17. Those on board included 75 young adults who are making aliyah with the intention of joining the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), with women outnumbering men, 41 to 34.
There were 13 people from California on board, including three 18-year-olds from the San Fernando Valley who are from Israeli families and are joining the IDF.
“I don’t want to do an office job; I can do that here,” Natalie Rubinstein, 18, of West Hills, who wants to be an artillery instructor in the IDF, told the Journal in a restaurant at LAX before the departure of a red-eye flight to New York. “I want to do physical stuff.”
She was joined by Tamir Marom, 18, and Lidor Asulin, 18, both from Woodland Hills. The three met through their membership in Tzofim, an organization offering programs that develop and maintain the connection between Tzofim (Israeli Scouts) in Israel and Jews in North America. After completing their preparation for the IDF through Tzofim’s Garin Tzabar program, the youth are enlisted into an IDF unit, becoming “lone soldiers” — members of the IDF who are living in Israel without the support of immediate family members. More than 6,300 lone soldiers are currently serving in the IDF, according to lonesoldiercenter.com, an organization that offers social and practical support to lone soldiers and their families.
“I don’t think we’re really alone, to be honest,” said Asulin, who is joining the IDF after deciding he wasn’t yet ready for college. “Eventually we all become family, one way or another.”
That’s the hope of NBN. Tani Kramer, the organization’s associate manager of public relations and communications, was among those staffing the flight. Originally from Sacramento, Kramer made aliyah to Israel with his family after he completed ninth grade. The family had been living in Israel for two years at the time, for what they believed would be a temporary stay. His father, a professor from the University of California, Davis, was ready to take the family back to California, but Kramer wasn’t interested. When he told his parents he’d found a family friend who would take him in, Kramer’s father decided the entire family would stay.
In an interview with the Journal on board the El Al airplane, Kramer spoke about what he called his “Nefesh moment,” which he had several years ago, after having joined the organization. Kramer interacted with a young adult who’d been contemplating aliyah but who had decided he wasn’t ready. Later, he ran into this man’s father. The man hugged Kramer, told him his son had made aliyah and that he was thankful to Kramer for facilitating the son’s decision.
Shortly before the plane landed in Tel Aviv, Kramer was wrapping tefillin with many of the observant olim. Meanwhile, the less observant were mingling. The excitement was palpable as the airplane neared its destination. Soon the flight attendants told everyone to be seated, and as the airplane descended into Israel, people on board broke out singing “Am Yisrael Chai.”
The plane was filled with a variety of passengers, and families with small children constituted a considerable number of those on board. Among them were the Eisens, a family of six from Los Angeles with plans to settle in a home they’ve purchased in Beit Shemesh.
“We’re excited,” said Ethan Eisen, a father of four who with his family most recently lived in the Pico-Robertson area, “[though] it was a little tough saying goodbye to some friends.”
The youngest person on the flight was 3 1/2 weeks old. The oldest was 85.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and NBN co-founders Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart were among those who addressed the olim during a welcoming ceremony in an airplane hangar at Ben Gurion airport.
“You are no longer Jews in exile,” Rivlin said, speaking to a crowd of hundreds, including current Israeli soldiers who came to greet the olim. “You are Israelis.”