On Tuesday, the third of Elul, our children, Elisheva Meier and Dr. Zev Hillel Davidovics, and our grandchildren, Gavriella, Adi Amalia, Yakira, and Kleila, assembled at the El Al terminal at JFK airport to embark on their momentous aliyah to Israel.
They were hardly alone. The charter El Al flight held 239 olim — there were 59 families, 90 children, and 59 lone soldiers. The ages of the olim — the new Israelis — ranged from a two-month-old infant to an 80-year-old senior citizen. Their relatives and friends were very present at the El Al hanger for the departure program, featuring spirited brief speeches by Nefesh b’Nefesh leaders and Israeli representatives, who highlighted the fact that Nefesh b’Nesh would continue to provide guidance and support for the olim.
Against the background music, which featured the words of Jeremiah’s prophecy, “Your children shall return to their country” (Jeremiah 31:16), we could sense the palpable emotions of those present. Separating from loved ones is filled with emotion due to uncertainty — if and when will we meet again? While close relationships can remain close even when you are separated by oceans — especially today, with WhatsApp and FaceTime — regular contact can be diminished as the olim become part of the rhythm of their new environment and culture.
A similar emotion was visible when the El Al plane landed at Ben Gurion, and Israeli relatives and friends welcomed the new olim. There was excitement and joy in reuniting with dear ones, and that joy occasionally is expressed through tears. Nefesh b’Nefesh organizers and Israeli government officials welcomed the olim. The speakers poignantly thanked the parents of the lone soldiers and assured both the parents and the soldiers that they are not alone.
There was an entirely other emotional component to the olims’ arrival in Israel. Many of them were raised with the value of the ancient and simultaneously modern State of Israel. Living in Israel was a dream of many of the olim — and now that dream has been realized. The words of the Psalmist express it succinctly, “When the Lord restores the fortunes of Zion — we see it as in a dream — our mouths shall be filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy” (Psalm 126).
This laughter and joy is a profoundly meaningful emotion, often expressed through tears of joys.
Yet there is still another observation that we feel is in order. Many olim in the past came to the modern State of Israel to escape persecution or oppression. They suffered significantly in their native countries, and aliyah often was very arduous. I think of the aliyot from the former USSR, Yemen, and Ethiopia.
The Nefesh b’Nefesh olim of Elul 5778 were not fleeing from a land of persecution; they enjoyed the good life and freedoms of the USA. Yet they were drawn to Israel to engage in the significant activity of contributing to nation-building. They moved to Israel in quest of a more meaningful Jewish and religious life for themselves and their children.
Nefesh B’Nesh deserves enormous credit for facilitating the aliyah process, reducing bureaucracy to a bare minimum, and creating a warm and welcoming process both in the United States and in Israel.
Elisheva and Zev, Gavriella, Adi Amalia, Yakira, and Kleila, we are proud of you and hope to visit you soon. May Hashem reward the new olim with fulfilling days and years. “May Hashem grant strength to His people and may He bestow wellbeing upon His people.”
Rabbi Menahem Meier, the founding principal of The Frisch School, lives in Teaneck with his wife, Tzipora.