Rami Kleinstein, the prominent American-Israeli singer-songwriter, got up to the stage, sat at the piano, and glanced out at the 338 new immigrants who had just arrived on a group flight from New York – including 108 new lone soldiers who will be enlisting in the IDF. He sang them one of his new releases, a Bob Dylan song translated to Hebrew by Rami’s close friend Yair Lapid. The words sounded like a prayer, as befits a Bob Dylan song:
May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay young forever
Waves of emotion rolled through the crowd, and a few started dancing at the foot of the state.
“I’m so excited to be here with you today,” Kleinstein said. “I remember my own Aliyah, like it was yesterday. I was 8 years old – this was 44 years ago – from New York. I was born in New York.”
The group flight on El Al carrying the new immigrants was organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh, together with The Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption, American Friends of the IDF, the Israeli Scouts’ “Garin Tzabar” program,” and the Jewish National Fund.
The new olim hailed from North America, including Alaska and British Columbia in the northwest, and eastern and western states of the USA, and they ranged in age from 6 weeks to 93 years. The flight included 107 children, and two sets of twins (one set age 5, another set age 19). The 93-year-old is part of four generations of the same family who made Aliyah together on this group flight. Of the 338 new olim, 65 are settling in Israel’s “peripheries” of the Galilee and Negev.
Waiting for them as they deplaned was the President of Israel Reuven (“Ruby”) Rivlin, Minister of the Interior Gidon Saar, Director General of the Absorption Ministry Oded Forer, Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Scouts Movement Eli Ben Yosef, founders of Nefesh B’Nefesh Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gelbart, and Chairman of the Jewish National Fund Efraim Stanzler. The JFN gave each new immigrant a certificate to the effect that JNF had planted, on their behalf, their “first tree in the homeland,” to strengthen the settlement of southern Israel.
Since almost a third of the new olim are soon-to-be-enlisted IDF soldiers, the flight was called “the Soldier Flight.” “Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, more than 3,000 rockets have been fired at Israel – and more than 3,000 people have made Aliyah,” said Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency, to the crowd.
More than half of the new soldiers have requested to be placed into combat units. Nefesh B’Nefesh reports that among the young men, there have been a high number of requests to serve voluntarily in units such as Duvdevan (special forces noted for undercover operations and countersurveillance); Sayeret Matkal (unit for deep reconnaissance, intelligence-gathering, counter-terrorism, and hostage rescue); Shayetet 13 (naval special forces for sea-to-land incursions, counter-terrorism, maritime intelligence-gathering, and maritime hostage rescue); Tzanchanim (Paratroopers’ brigade); Sayeret Tzanchanim (Paratrooper reconnaissance); Pilots’ courses; and Golani (elite infantry brigade in the Northern Command).
Among the young women, the preferred IDF units are Okets (canine special forces); Iron Dome; Caracal (an infantry combat battalion, made of up both Jews and Arabs, which is 70% female); the Medics’ course; the unit for the Education Corps’ non-commissioned officers (teaching soldiers the history and values of Israel and of the IDF); and the unit for weapons trainers.
Hundreds of young Jews from around the world make Aliyah each year through Garin Tzabar, a program run by the Israeli Scouts, in partnership with The Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, and Nefesh B’Nefesh, that provides “instant family for IDF recruits.” Founded in 1991, Garin Tzabar builds groups of Diaspora Jews and Israelis who have been living abroad from a young age, who have chosen to move to Israel and serve in the IDF. Starting several months before their Aliyah, each group participates in intensive preparation seminars; upon arrival in Israel, the group is adopted by the Israel Scouts and placed in a host kibbutz that quickly becomes the group’s home away from home. For three months, participants study Hebrew and prepare for army service. They are inducted into a variety of units in the IDF but reunite often, heading to the kibbutz for weekends and holidays.
As all the new olim entered Israel, the founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, told them, “The last month has not been a simple one in Israel or in the US. Tonight, you’ll be able to turn on the television and see good news. You are the good news. The fact that you are here, is good news.”
Natan Sharansky said it was emotional for him to see so many new immigrants, especially young people, making Aliyah specifically at this difficult time. “There are immigrants here who fought for my release [from prison in the former Soviet Union, in the 1980’s] and for all the former Prisoners of Zion in the former Soviet Union. And now, we are here, to welcome you.”
Minister of the Interior Gidon Saar said that he is the son of immigrants, who moved to Israel from Argentina 40 years ago. “They say that the United States is the land of unlimited possibilities,” he said. “I can tell you that here in Israel are unlimited possibilities, and I wish you success in all your endeavors.”
Minister of Absorption Sofa Landver, who addressed the new olim through a recorded video, said that “It warms the heart to see young people who, specifically in times like these, feel a responsibility to stand with Israel and to protect the security of our state.”