Nefesh B’Nefesh

July 13, 2007

It’s really hard to keep up with the blog because so much has happened in just one week. In some cases I have to write about events out of order or simply summarize them so I can save time. Part of the reason for the delay is that it takes me a little while to absorb these experiences and write about them properly.

Speaking of blogging out of order, I’m about to write to you about our experience greeting Olim (newly immigrated) on Tuesday, July 10. We were in Israel for only five days, but we decided to wake up at 5:30 am and get on a bus organized by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that facilitates aliya (immigration) of Americans and Brits to Israel, and meet 220 of Israel’s new citizens. Supposedly the number of olim from the US and Canada has increased by about 80 percent over the last 5 years. The flight we were greeting was the first batch of the summer olim. We decided to get up at the crack of dawn because we had a friend from DC that was making aliya, and we were also curious to see the ceremony.

Eric and our Friend Sam, the new Oleh, As I found out at the ceremony, these olim get the whole megillah when they come with Nefesh B’Nefesh. Instead of arriving in Israel’s brand new airport, they walk down the airplane steps onto the tarmac and get picked up by buses. The buses then shuttle them to the entrance of the old Israeli airport where they are greeted by shouting crowds and kitschy, Israeli klezmer music. It was almost as if they were movie stars.

We saw a group of Israeli soldiers (some of whom were American émigrés that joined up) and a group of NCSY (American Orthodox synagogue) girls were part of the crowd. The NCSY girls were especially adept at cheering the olim on and breaking out into Israeli dancing. When a bus would come, people would line up on either side of the entrance and the immigrants would pass in the middle of them. An older couple that was joining their children sported t-shirts that said “Bubbe” and “Zaide” on them while their children wore t-shirts saying “welcome home.” When an émigré in a wheelchair came through, the NCSY girls gathered round and cheered her on.

There is something touching about the decision to use the dumpy, old airport terminal to host the olim. It also must be a moving experience for olim to approach the airport from afar and to have a community of supporters to greet them. Supposedly the newly emigrated used to walk from the plane to the terminal entrance, which would have been even more dramatic. The whole experience seemed designed to make the Olim feel welcome and appreciated for their decision to ‘come home.’ I’m sure the experience would have been very different if the olim simply went through the new terminal and were processed like everybody else.

It was hard not to be moved and to be caught up in the infectious joy and optimism. The olim glowed as they got off the buses and waved at the crowd. Somebody we met at the ceremony remarked that while these people leave as U.S. citizens they come out on the other side as Israeli citizens.

We encountered people from a variety of political and religious perspectives during the trip. We met a Reconstructionist Jew who had made aliya with his family a decade ago. On the bus ride home we had an interesting conversation with a disc jockey from the right-wing radio station called Israel National Radio, located in the Schtachim. Basically the guy’s idea of ensuring the future of Israel would be to offer Palestinians compensation and to have them leave. He didn’t think highly of U.S. involvement in the region either.

If you don’t know anything about my politics, here’s a brief intro:  I’m in complete disagreement with the type of ideology calling for transfer of Palestinians. I consider myself a left-wing Zionist, I support two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and do not think we should be in the West Bank. (Eric identifies himself as a centrist. We’re a mixed political marriage–he generally votes Republican and I vote Democrat.) I often find myself treading the line between the anti-Israel leftists and Pro-Israel rightists and it can often be an uncomfortable position to be in—both the left and the right have reason to complain about your ideology.

These days, with the situation in Gaza and West Bank very dire, it’s hard to keep idealistic and continue to believe there is a partner for peace. However, I still try to have faith that things will get better . And I think the work of organizations like Brit Tzedek v’ Shalom and Ameinu are incredibly important in educating Americans about alternative perspectives on the conflict.   

Phew! Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I can move onto some of our other experiences. Like the Old City, the Jerusalem Film Festival, Katamon and Ulpan. Speaking of Ulpan, I start on Tuesday. My entries will probably become shorter–because I will have to be studying most of the time that I’m not in school and because there’s only so much I can write about learning Hebrew.

Hope you keep reading!!!

RZ

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