Life was good for Joseph and Rachel Friedman and their five children.
The Bergenfield family was happily ensconced in the rhythm of Jewish life in Bergen County. Joseph, a 37-year-old IT consultant, and his wife, Rachel, also 37, and a speech therapist, were leading busy lives and raising their five children, Devora, 12, Eliana, 11, 9-year-old twins Benny and Yoni, and Akiva, 5. Their children attended the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey and the family davened at Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield.
But there was something missing. There was an ineffable longing.
Mr. Friedman, whose grandparents survived the Holocaust, said that his parents moved from Ukraine in the former Soviet Union to the United States in 1976 for the sake of their children, settling into the neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn.
“They moved to America to provide a Jewish education for me,” Mr. Friedman said. “There were all kinds of challenges for them. But they came here for their children.”
Mr. Friedman did, in fact, receive a day school education and graduated from the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn. But his parents’ history and their sea-change was not lost on Mr. Friedman when he and his wife decided to make aliyah.
“I think I’m doing for my children what my parents had done for me,” Mr. Friedman said. “But now, I’m bringing them to a Jewish country. They planted the seed. This is the blossom.”
Emphasized Mrs. Friedman, “We have really made the decision because of our children.”
Likewise, Robert and Sarah Blum of Teaneck decided to make aliyah for the future of their children, Jerry, 8, Tehillah, 6, Bat-Tziyon, 4, Tzvi, 3 and Este, 1.
“We have little kids,” said Mr. Blum, who works in real estate. “We wanted to take the opportunity while we can. Israel is a very natural place to live.”
In the past, when he visited Israel with his family, Mr. Blum said he became aware of how child-friendly the country is. In Israel, he said, there is a culture that supports parenting and a feeling that children are welcomed everywhere. People are happy to see children. That, he said, is a healthy environment in which to raise them.
“Why wouldn’t we do this?” he asked. “This is a unique opportunity.”
So, too, the Ausubels of Teaneck. Parents Yoni, a 36-year-old clinical psychologist, and his wife, Elana, 37, also decided to bring their four children, Meira, 11, Tiferet, 8, Yitzi, 6 and Shalva, 2, to Israel. They already have family living there, and their relatives were making aliyah at the same time as they were.
“It’s starting a new life,” said their eldest daughter, Meira, who will be entering sixth grade. “I am nervous and excited at the same time. I’m leaving all that I know, like my friends. I know it will be different, but I’ll make new friends.”
There were also the Cohens of Teaneck – Alysa and Amir, along with their four children, ages 6 to 16, who made the decision to move, and live in Israel. Mrs. Cohen, a longtime teacher at Yeshivat Noam, and Mr. Cohen, who works for IDT, lived in Teaneck for the last 17 years.
These Bergen County families were among the 242 olim, new immigrants, who landed on Wednesday, August14 at Ben Gurion Airport on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s 60th chartered El Al flight. The flight carried 31 families, 103 children, and 21 medical professionals, and marked a total of 2,282 olim arriving this summer. Sponsored by Heidi Rothberg of Colorado, the charter also was facilitated in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah & Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel (KKL), and Jewish National Fund-USA.
This flight also included 41 future lone soldiers, those volunteering to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) without immediate family living in Israel. The young men and women, once they become Israeli citizens, enlist in the IDF as required of all Israelis at the age of 18, some of whom will be doing so through Tzofim-Garin Tzabar.
Since its inception in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh has brought 60,000 olim to Israel.
Following the nine-hour flight, emotion was high as the olim walked off the plane and were met with rousing cheers, trumpeting shofars, and an exuberant reception filled with 1,400 supporters. There were jubilant family members, friends, soldiers and supporters who greeted them at 6 a.m. As they deplaned, some of the olim bent down to kiss the ground, and many, still dazed from the long flight, shook off their sleepiness and began to take in the first moments of their new lives.
Once she landed, Chana Kolber, a 19-year-old from Wesley Hills, Rockland County, joined in with her fellow future lone soldier olim on the tarmac in a spirited dance replete with song and waving Israeli blue and white flags.
Ms. Kolber, a graduate of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, said she first became interested in making aliyah following an NCSY summer trip to Poland and Israel during high school.
“There were a lot of reasons why I wanted to make aliyah” said Ms. Kolber as she waited at John F. Kennedy International Airport before departing. She was joined by her parents, Allen and Leora, and two of her three brothers, Sammy and Aryeh.
“When I was in Poland, I saw what happened (to the Jews.) Then we went to Israel. I made the connection, and saw the miracle that we have our country,” Ms. Kolber said. “I want to be a part of protecting Israel. I wanted to move for that.”
At the Ben Gurion Airport reception for the new olim, some of Israel’s luminaries were in attendance to welcome the newly arrived: Sara Netanyahu, wife of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Aliyah and Integration Minister Yoav Galant, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, Mayor of Beit Shemesh Aliza Bloch, and Mayor of Bat Yam Tzvika Brot.
Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, executive director and co-founder with Tony Gelbart of Nefesh B’Nefesh, who first recited the Shehecheyanu, the prayer to give thanks for reaching new experiences, upon welcoming the new olim, acknowledged the magnitude of the moment.
“This path home is often paved with tears, pain, and sacrifice. We know it too well,” Rabbi Fass said. “But when we have the path to create joy, we are incumbent to celebrate with every ounce of our being the joy that this path creates. So today we celebrate the joy. We celebrate your homeland. We celebrate your coming home. We celebrate your resolve, your determination and your values, and this historic, majestic moment. Mazal tov.
“Each and every oleh brings a world of their own to Israel, culturally, ideologically and professionally as they strengthen the Jewish nation. As we celebrate our sixty-thousandth oleh today, we reflect upon how, Nefesh B’Nefesh, as an institution, has been privileged to not only help tens of thousands of Jews fulfill their aliyah dreams, but has also contributed to building and developing the state of Israel through these olim.”
In her remarks, Ms. Netanyahu directed her words to the 41 young men and women who came from throughout North America to serve in the IDF.
“You, the lone soldiers, I especially welcome,” she said. “Welcome to Israel and welcome to the IDF. You have left a warm home, family and friends, in order to make aliyah and join the success story of Israel and come here, to your home. All of Israel embraces you today. We are all your family. Even if you are called lone soldiers, you are not alone. We are always with you.”
In March, the Friedmans took a pilot trip to Israel to check out different communities to see which would best fit their family and where they wanted to live. They chose the community of Ramat Shilo in Ramat Beit Shemesh, a place the described as a “soft landing.”
“We already have a few friends in the neighborhood,” Mr. Friedman said. “We thought it was the best environment for our family and the best schools for our children.”
Facilitating the integration of olim into their communities is a priority for Nefesh B’Nefesh, which reports a 90 percent retention rate of those who have made aliyah through the organization. Before the families even arrive, Nefesh B’Nefesh will work to prepare the communities for their newest residents. Rabbi Fass said that, for example, if a large number of school children are entering into a particular community, and a particular school, the organization meets with the municipality, school principals, and teachers to help prepare the school system for these students and their transition.
Another service for school children offered by Nefesh B’Nefesh is a Skype homework help program for olim school children to interface with Bnot Sherut (young women who do National Service) at Nefesh B’Nefesh. The youngsters can get help with their homework live online. It is part of the “365-day customer service” offered by Nefesh B’Nefesh.
Following the hectic and emotional whirlwind that was part of leaving Teaneck and making aliyah, Robert Blum, whose family will live in Ra’anana, already was starting to feel the difference of being a new resident in Israel – even within his first 24 hours.
“In our first day here, I am looking at Israel in a new way,” Mr. Blum said. “In a sense, it is less magical than it has been other times I’ve visited or even lived here. For one, we are consumed with administrative and logistical details. That will last awhile. Also, having left the wealthiest country in the history of the world, the superficial differences between the United States and Israel stand out perhaps more than they did before.
“That said, there is a profound sense of calm having come here,” he continued. “It feels like a homecoming, not a trip or even just a move. We don’t have to rush to every site and activity. We can now breathe deeply and take everything in at a pace that is natural. It will take time to acclimate, and maybe that process will never be fully complete for me and Sarah. But it’s a new dimension that adds real depth to the experience of being here.”
Heidi Mae Bratt is the editor of About Our Children.