People move to Israel through Nefesh B'Nefesh, an organization dedicated to revitalizing North American immigration to Israel, for all sorts of reasons-some for the professional network, others for the financial assistance, and still others for the emotional support of moving to Israel with a group. The Blueprint spoke with several new immigrants about what compelled them to make aliyah and how Nefesh B Nefesh touched them.
Henry Fuerte, 9/11 Survivor
The morning of September 11, 2001, Henry Fuerte was late to work. He arrived at the elevator banks of the 78th floor of the south tower and waited for the 15-second ride that would take him to the 95th floor, where he worked in computer server management for Marsh & McLellan.
"The elevator blew up in front of me and I was tossed like a rag doll back on the landing," says Fuerte. "I had no idea a plane was parked upstairs. I was just looking at these black holes where some of the elevators used to be. There was no communication, no one knew what was going on."
Surrounded by debris and with shrapnel trapped in his eye, he waited for the dust to settle amid darkness. But while Fuerte suffered serious back and knee injuries, 355 of his colleagues did not survive.
He made it down the narrow stairs of the building that only fit two people per step. As soon as he made it outside, he heard a bloodcurdling scream and turned to look backward at the horrifying image of the tower imploding.
"Everyone did a beeline, and there was a stampede down Broadway," says Fuerte. He trekked across the Brooklyn Bridge and made it to a hospital where he received immediate treatment; his oxygen level was 20% of what it should normally be.
An observant Jew, Fuerte had missed his daily prayers that morning. "I prayed in the hospital and I started saying psalms, and this little prayer book that I used had the Israel Defense Force insignia and that meant a lot to me," he says. "Every time I visited Israel, I didn't want to come back. I said I really want to live here, each time I came, but it was the 9/11 experience that propelled me to do it."
Four years later, Fuerte has made Jerusalem his home with the support of NBN. To date, close to 7,000 people from 31 states have made aliyah through NBN (www.nbn.org.il), which works in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel. On July 12, 2005, Fuerte participated in the largest immigration to Israel from North America in one day on a chartered El Al plane sponsored by NBN.
"Israel is the inheritance of the Jewish people, that's where we belong," he says. NBN provided Fuerte with the necessary grants to make the move possible. They also set him up with a "buddy," a native Israeli who will help Fuerte with the transition of adapting to his new country. During his acclimation period, Fuerte spends his days living at an ulpan in Jerusalem and learning Hebrew with Jews from all over the world. "We're like an extended family," he says.
Aside from transporting new immigrants to Israel, the chartered NBN flights seem to be serving as matchmaking modes as well. Aaron Greenberg, 29, of Arizona, and Jennifer Zeichner, 30, of New Jersey, met last year on the July 14th flight.
"I felt right away that she was someone special," says Greenberg, who picked Zeichner out of the crowd during the flight. They later completed an ulpan program together in Jerusalem, but Zeichner wouldn't date Greenberg till the ulpan was over.
"She was getting over a relationship and didn't want to date anyone while we were in ulpan because everyone knows everyone's business," he says. "I was always pestering her to go out on dates with me, but it wasn't until we left ulpan that she agreed." Eight months later, the couple became engaged on June 3 of this year.
Greenberg tricked Zeichner with a cracker jack ring from a cheap store on Ben Yehuda in Jerusalem. "I put the real ring in a box from Sabon," says Greenberg, "and so after she looked at the ring, trying to fight back the tears, I said, ‘I think you are looking for this.’ So, I asked her to marry me with the fake ring and she said yes. And then I gave her the real one."
Advice from the Experts
David Baker made aliyah from Queens 20 years ago and now serves as senior foreign press coordinator for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He flew with the immigrants on the July 26th flight and remarked that the most significant obstacle to making aliyah is leaving family behind.
"It's not easy making aliyah, and it's not easy living in Israel," he said. "If you are determined, you make it work."
"You have 180 Jewish heroes here on this plane, leaving their families behind, which is the biggest challenge," he said. "You can adjust and take new jobs, etc., but there is no replacing family."
At the send-off for the immigrants on the July 26th flight, Michael Landsberg, executive director of the Israel Aliyah Center (www.aliyah.org), commented that many young American Jews don't know of the numerous benefits that await young Israeli immigrants.
"One of the things that we discovered in the last two/three years is that many young people are considering going to Israel but don't have enough incentive," he explained. "Since we started promoting the right of free study/free B.A., M.A. or PhD, we have seen an enormous jump. Israel today can offer them incentives and benefits that no where else in the world can offer."
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