Photo essay below.
Exactly 204 Americans, from ages four months to 89 years, are bidding farewell to America today.
I am here with them, at the JFK airport in New York, where they are being greeted by super-cheerful Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) staffers who are handing them their free El Al tickets in envelops and directing them to check-in.
These olim from all across the US are here to “live the dream”, as NBN’s slogan goes, to make aliyah. It’s a charter flight, which means that Nefesh B’Nefesh hijacked the El Al check-in counters—the type of hijacking I’m sure El Al welcomes. It already feels like one big happy Zionist family. This will be the last NBN charter flight of the summer, a record season that saw off about 3000 olim from Western countries.
Standing in line at the El Al check-in, I noticed young couples with really small babies, bearded men with black kippahs and hats, young men without kippahs dressed like musicians (some lugging guitars), made-up women in tight jeans and flip-flops. It’s a diverse group, consisting of 38 families and 81 singles. I’ll meet with two of the Californian singles on the flight and share with you what’s going through their mind as they see America shrink behind them through the airplane windows.
All olim get special packets of information listing what to expect when they are in Israel: how to get their Israeli passports and documentation, how to sign up for Israel’s national health insurance and social security, how to release their shipments, how to register for school and ulpan, how to open a bank account. It seems like these olim are moving to Israel armed with knowledge to soften any bumps on the road to Israeli citizenship. Gee, I wish Nefesh B’Nefesh was around when I made aliyah in 1999. I was herded on board just like any standard person visiting the country with no one holding my hand.
Gotta run because they’re testing the mics in the JFK hall, which means the NBN farewell ceremony is about begin for the olim and the family’s they’re leaving behind. Bye bye America (or rather, lehitraot!)