By Lynne Jensen
Good news came by cell phone to 12-year-old Chaviva Sands of Metairie while she was shopping in June for her 17-year-old sister Sara's summer trip to Israel. The caller told Chaviva she had won a national contest -- and a trip to Israel.
On Tuesday, Chaviva will leave JFK airport on an El Al 747 jumbo jet bearing the colorful logo she designed for Nefesh B'Nefesh, an organization that helps Jews immigrate to Israel, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Though Chaviva will return home to Metairie after her 10-day visit, she's traveling with about 350 people who are moving there from the United States and Canada.
Last week, Chaviva wondered whether she might live in Israel one day.
"Maybe for a couple of years," she said. "I'm not sure about forever."
Since it was founded in 2001, Nefesh B'Nefesh, which loosely translates as Jewish Souls United, has helped about 7,000 Jews immigrate to Israel.
More than 200 children in sixth through eighth grades entered the logo contest. Chaviva's design is a white, dove-like airplane over a blue ocean, heading for a centrally located airport in Israel, marked on the map as a heart.
The logo had to be designed with aliyah (ascension) and homecoming in mind, Chaviva said. This is her first trip to Israel, she said.
The display of emotion shown by immigrants who will be traveling with Chaviva "can't be described," said Charley Levine, Nefesh B'Nefesh spokesman. "The passion fills the plane."
The trek begins with tears as relatives and friends gather at JFK to say goodbye, Levine said. But soon after the plane takes off for the 11-hour flight, "the excitement begins," he said. By the time the plane lands, passengers are "jumping to get off, and family on that end are rushing to greet them."
Immigrating to Israel is "a big decision," Levine said. "It is a real serious life change."
In her logo, Chaviva "captured the message of what we are trying to do," he said. She will receive a proclamation from the mayor's office in New Orleans today and will be honored again at a ceremony in New York before her plane leaves, Levine said.
This is the first year the contest was held, and the response was so great that it will continue annually, he said.
As the contest winner, Chaviva is allowed to bring along a parent and a teacher, who also receive round-trip flights and lodging. Chaviva's mother, Clarisse Sands, will accompany her daughter, along with Ellen Steigman, who taught Chaviva at The New Orleans Jewish Day School in Metairie and who encouraged her to enter the contest.
"This trip will make real to her all the things she's learned in school," Steigman said. "For me, it's a dream come true to travel with a student -- to see it all through their eyes."
For Clarisse Sands, the trip holds great irony. She has not been to Israel for 23 years and had to cancel plans to travel there 13 years ago.
"That's when you found out you were pregnant with me," Chaviva said.
"Everything comes full circle," Clarisse Sands said.
© 2005 The Times-Picayune - All rights reserved