On their way home

On their way home

Nefesh B’Nefesh helps 186 New Jerseyans make aliyah

Dan and Andrea Leubitz of Teaneck always thought that they would eventually make aliyah, which is why they gave Israeli names to their three children, Gabriel, Maayan, and Ilan.

Two-year-old Maayan Leubitz will be on her way to Israel next month.

And it was the naming of their middle child that pushed them to actually make aliyah.

On July 11, ‘004, 19-year-old Maayan Naim was murdered when a bomb planted near a Tel Aviv bus stop exploded. The Leubitzes learned of her death through the One Family Fund, which raises awareness of and funds for the victims of terrorism. A week later, the Leubitzes named their newborn girl after the fallen soldier. After later meeting her family and forming a bond with them, the Leubitzes decided it was time for them to make aliyah.

"We began to understand there really is one family and that family needs to be in Israel," said Dan Leubitz.

The Leubitzes are part of a contingent of 1’3 people from North Jersey — and 186 total from the state — that will make aliyah this summer through Nefesh B’Nefesh, the nonprofit group that promotes and aids North American aliyah. Almost 700 new immigrants will arrive in Israel on Aug. 16, via Nefesh B’Nefesh flights, setting a record for the largest single-day immigration to Israel ever from North America and Great Britain.

Nefesh B’Nefesh estimates that it will send between 3,300 and 3,500 new olim to Israel by the end of the year, said Charley Levine, a spokesman for the organization. Given the situation in Gaza, he added, Israelis are reinvigorated by the wave of new olim because it shows that some Jews from the diaspora can give tangible support to Israel that goes beyond simply writing out a check for the country.

"This is a message of enthusiasm," he said.

As of Wednesday, when this paper went to press, Israel was expanding its operations in the Gaza Strip in response to the capture of one of its soldiers last month, but Dan Leubitz says he’s not deterred by a possible escalation in violence and is determined to live a normal life in Israel.

"In the States, when we experienced terrorism on our land, everyone was in shock. But then people continued [their lives]. The world is a dangerous place," he said. "Israel is a very resilient people and a resilient country."

Nor is Aliza Silk, a recent Rutgers University graduate and West Orange resident, concerned. Silk, who will make aliyah the same day as Leubitz, plans on spending her first year in a seminary in Jerusalem, and then, the ”-year-old says, she will explore Israeli graduate school programs.

Silk has been to Israel eight times and moving there is "the next step." Noting that her passport is full of Israeli stamps, she added, "Nothing is tying me down now."

She spent several months there in ‘001. Before 9/11, her parents called her frequently to find out if she was safe, she said, but afterward, it was Silk who was worried and called them to find out if they were all right. Terrorism, she said, is a threat no matter the location.

Silk sees her move as an excuse for her parents to visit Israel more often. She also has a younger sister who plans to spend time in Israel next year.

When Nefesh B’Nefesh was founded five years ago, its mission was to put North American aliyah "on the radar screen," Levine said. "Today there’s more awareness of aliyah as a realistic option than there was five years ago. There’s a lot of buzz."

While Levine does not expect every American Jew to make aliyah, he hopes that American Jews at least consider whether aliyah is right for them, he said. "I would like to be able to say through our work we brought the question to every single American Jew: ‘Is aliyah for me?’"

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