By Avi Meir Hoffman
I personally witnessed them. They were two men sitting in the first class section of an El Al flight headed toward Israel. Between the two of them they were holding on to some very small items with an illegal street value of well over one million American dollars.
They were both busy. And working through the night. Everyone else on the flight seemed to be sleeping.
They were using computers – each of them with a powerful late model notebook. It seems that they were cataloguing. The items were not theirs and I had never seen so many of these items in one spot.
They were doing something unique. Something that no one else had ever done before, it seems. This required another, more careful, look.
One of the items belonged to a young lady who had just graduated SKA or HALB High School for girls in the Five Towns. Another belonged to Jasmine, a woman from Great Neck, Long Island who originally hailed from Hamburg, Germany. Another was the property of a woman from West Hempstead, Sandra Sokol, who had sent and educated all her children in the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County.
The items were American passports and there was nothing untoward about what these two men were doing. They were taught how to process these passports by the government of the State of Israel. Everyone on board the flight was making Aliyah – and these two men – who work for Nefesh B’Nefesh, were processing their passports. The passports were handed to them at the beginning of the flight – by the time we got over England they were done. They were examined for forgeries, computer examined, labeled, stamped, and processed.
Every country in the world, including Israel, has something called “Passport Control.” And as anyone who has ever exited or entered a foreign country – Passport Control can be a major “pain in the neck.” Which is what Nefesh B’Nefesh is all about.
They exist to make Aliyah to Israel easier. Much easier.
They succeed in removing the impediments – easing any “pain in the neck” associated with Aliyah to Israel. From processing all the paperwork in revolutionary new ways, to providing certain types of grants, airplane fare, transportation and housing and job assistance – Nefesh B’Nefesh does it all to make Aliyah an easier decision.
The upshot? It works.
This past El Al flight on August 18th was Nefesh B’Nefesh’s last charter flight of the summer. It carried 239 Olim – 103 of them were children. This summer alone Nefesh B’Nefesh assisted in the Aliyah of over 3000 Jews to Israel. In the past nine years NBN was responsible for assisting over 25,000 people in making Aliyah.
At the arrival ceremony with thousands of people present, Knesset Members, business leaders and family members – Knesset Member Silvan Shalom voiced what everyone else was thinking, “NBN founders Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Tony Gilbert deserve the Israel Prize – Israel’s highest award.”
Both founders were on the flight. Rabbi Fass could easily have been confused with one of the new Olim. I saw him schlepping a baby in a car seat down the aisle of the airplane. He appeared as the consummate new Oleh – with bags, baby and car seat in tow. I asked him if the baby was his. His negative answer confirmed my thoughts: “Here was a CEO who has no qualms of picking up the broom and mop himself to ensure that everything goes well.”
The flight had 4 dogs (one named Gandolph), 1 cat, and 58 single adults. A previous charter flight had a ferret that got loose, to the chagrin of the El Al team. But they did take it in stride.
NBN is innovative. Not a week or month goes by where some improvement isn’t thought of, discussed, and or implemented. New programs to populate the Galil, the North or even the Negev are constantly being developed. Nefesh B’Nefesh is a team player that works with the the Jewish Agency, El Al, and the Knesset. Together, they make a well-oiled machine.
It was a flight laden with emotion too. The TSA booth at the bottom floor of the terminal broke out in song. “Veshavu banim, veshavu banim, veshavu banim ligvulam.. And the sons shall return to their borders – home.” The song was heard again a few minutes before landing too.
Raz Goldman, an El Al Stewart, is on board for every Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight. “I made Aliyah years ago – and it was not as easy as it is now. I am the only American El Al stewart in the entire fleet. I love the Nefesh B’Nefesh flights. I identify closely with each and every Oleh on this flight.”
New Olim came from across the spectrum and from so many of our local schools too. There was the sole Jewish resident of a small town of 100 people just outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming. And there were former students of HALB, TAG, HANC, and Bruria too.
Upon arrival the new Olim were greeted by soldiers, fellow citizens, CNN television crews and a remarkable reception. One 82 year old woman, the oldest person on the flight said, with tears in her eyes, “I left the gates of Auschwitz and went to America to survive. Now, finally, I am home.”
Nefesh B’Nefesh can be contacted at www.nbn.org.il.