Jewish immigrants arrive in Israel yesterday

TEL AVIV – As rockets slam into Israel and Israeli reprisals force Lebanese to flee the border region and parts of Beirut, more than 3,000 American citizens are leaving the comfort and security of the United States to make war-torn Israel their home.

“What is the best answer to Hezbollah?” asked former Israeli prime minister and current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu during a welcome address to the new citizens. “You are the answer to Hezbollah.”

More than 250 new immigrants arrived yesterday at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport to add to the rapidly growing Jewish population in Israel. The planeload was the second of seven flights scheduled for this summer and the first arrival since the outbreak of violence with Lebanon.

The flights are arranged by Nefesh B’Nefesh, a private organization that provides financial incentives and social services to new immigrants from North America. Yesterday’s planeload was the 17th since Nefesh B’Nefesh began chartering flights for immigrants in 2002.

The act of immigrating to Israel is called Aliyah, meaning to ascend, in Hebrew. Once they arrive in Israel, new citizens are referred to as olim, meaning pilgrims.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to immigrants yesterday

Yehoshua Fass, director of Nefesh B’Nefesh and a former pulpit rabbi in Boca Raton, Fla., called the flight “the ultimate solidarity mission.”

Leading up to yesterday’s flight, thousands of American citizens were fleeing the region back to the U.S. Israel’s national airline carrier, El Al, has added extra flights to New York to accommodate those seeking to escape the violence.

Since the conflict began last week, more than 1,000 rockets, mostly Katyushas, have been fired from Lebanon into northern Israel, killing 18 civilians and injuring scores of others. Lebanese Internal Security Forces say more than 250 civilians have been killed during Israeli air strikes, with hundreds more wounded.

While the conflict began months after the incoming flights of new Israeli citizens were arranged, the immigrants and the dignitaries who welcomed them repeatedly pointed out the symbolism of arriving in Israel during a war.

“You are making Israel stronger,” said Netanyahu. “Aliyah is the lifeline of Israel. Israel is the only homeland for the Jewish people, and the Jewish people must fight for its place in it.”

Referring to Israel’s chances of victory in the war against Hamas and Hezbollah, Netanyahu stated in his address, “We have won, we have prevailed. We have built cities, we built industry, we have built infrastructure.”

Immigrants welcomed to Israel

“We are a very powerful country. We are applying only a fraction of our power,” Netanyahu added.

Following the speech, Netanyahu commented on the continued threat of rockets raining on northern Israeli cities from Lebanon.

“We must stop the rockets to protect these olim,” Netanyahu told WND.

At a farewell ceremony for the emigrating American citizens in New York’s John F. Kennedy international airport, Israel’s consul general in New York, stated, “The fact that you are making Aliyah at this point in time is a vote of confidence and security in the state of Israel and the victory over terrorism.”

While many of the new Israelis are moving to locations out of range of Katyusha rockets from the north and Qassam rockets from the south, several are moving to cities recently bombarded, including Haifa and Ashkelon.

Yet despite the rocket threat, most of the new residents offered statements of confidence regarding their personal and, now, national security.

Sammy Capuano, who arrived on the flight with his wife Shiri and their six-month-old son from Aventura, Fla., told WND that despite the ongoing violence, “it’s a feeling of relief to be in Israel.”

“God could have put Israel in Texas or the Bahamas,” Capuano said. “But God put us here amongst our enemies to teach us that our security comes from one source: from following God’s commandments.

Nachum Kligman was one of hundreds of guests ushering the arrival of immigrants at Ben Gurion Airport. He was there with his family to welcome his parents on their Aliyah. Kligman himself made Aliyah on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s inaugural flight in July 2002.

Kligman is not concerned about the threat to his safety in Israel, citing the terror threat as a primary component of his decision to move to Israel.

“We made Aliyah in response to 9-11,” he said. “When 9-11 happened, that is when I knew it was time to move to Israel. God was sending me a message.”

Exactly one year to the day after the largest terror attack in U.S. history, Kligman and his wife welcomed the birth of a baby boy, Moshe Shlomo. “We heard God’s message in 2001, and He rewarded us in 2002.”

Two additional immigrant flights are arriving from France next week, and a third European flight is departing Great Britain in August.

The flights are coordinated in conjunction with the Jewish Agency for Israel, a non-governmental agency focused on bringing Jews to live in Israel from around the world, on behalf of the state. Bringing one million additional Jews to Israel was one of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s primary stated goals.

Shlomo Riskin, rabbi of Israel’s Efrata community, made Aliyah from the U.S. 20 years ago. His community has been a popular landing ground for many Americans, including several on yesterday’s flight who have left the comforts of America for a new home in Israel.

During the welcome ceremony, Riskin told the new immigrants, “If Israel was Disneyland, we would come for fun, in the sun. But this is the motherland, and we will come when our mother needs us.”

Riskin added, “Israel is the safest place in the world for Jews.”

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Alex Traiman is a writer for WND’s Jerusalem bureau

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