While international mediators press for the full implementation of the “road map” to peace in the Middle East, hundreds of North American Jews are blazing a trail to boost Israel’s right to exist.
More than 300 secular and religious Jews – single individuals, married couples and families – boarded El Al jets in New York this week to emigrate to Israel.
They’re part of an exodus organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh, or Jewish Souls United, an organization that offers grants of up to $25,000 to immigrants who stay for at least three years.
The 300 are among 1,000 Americans and Canadians expected to make the move this summer. They follow in the footsteps of some 500 others in 2002. Of those 500, only one returned to the U.S., according to the Jerusalem Post.
The goal, according to the group’s co-founder Tony Gelbart, is to prevent Arabs from outnumbering Jews.
“The Palestinians still dream of overcoming Israel demographically. They are wrong,” Gelbart told the New York Post. “No amount of terror or economic hardship will prevent Jewish people from coming to Israel.”
The paper reports the 46-year-old Florida businessman put up $2 million of his own money toward the effort.
But it’s not the money that motivates most.
“We see Israel as our homeland, we believe this is our country,” Harry Zettel told the Toronto Star. “And while there is some fear, some trepidation at taking a step like this, I believe in God. I believe this is where we should be.”
Zettel told the paper he and his wife Suzanne and their five young children will settle in Israel proper – not the territories – in order to “strengthen Israeli society.”
“God gave us this land,” Zettel added. “Israel is at war right now. We have to do something to support the country. I don’t think we can idly sit back and not help out.”
The new arrivals were welcomed at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“This is the right answer to Palestinian threats,” Netanyahu told the New York Post.
“The government that I lead decided that aliya [making Israel home] is the first priority, and it’s the most important thing,” the Jerusalem Post quotes Sharon as telling the immigrants. “I know it’s not an easy thing, to move from one country to another country, but here you are coming home.”