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Arrival of 215 immigrants sparks dancing at Ben-Gurion Airport

More than 29,000 new olim arrived in the first half of the year.

New immigrants from North America celebrate their arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport, Aug. 16, 2023. Photo by Kobi Natan/TPS.
New immigrants from North America celebrate their arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport, Aug. 16, 2023. Photo by Kobi Natan/TPS.

A planeload of 215 immigrants from the United States and Canada landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Wednesday, sparking emotional family reunions and even dancing in one of the terminals.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my whole life than I am today. It’s been a big dream that I’ve had for many years,” said Carol Ginzburg, 77. “I have a bunch of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are living in Israel. So I want to be here.

“Frankly, I’m ready to be in Israel and be done with the crazy conflicts in America,” she added.

The flight brought 45 future lone soldiers who will join the 3,500 men and women from around the world who are currently serving as part of the FIDF-Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program.

Once they become Israeli citizens, these men and women will be required to enlist in the IDF, as are all Israeli citizens at the age of 18. The majority of the future lone soldiers on today’s flight are part of Tzofim-Garin Tzabar, a Friends of Israel Scouts program, who before and throughout their military service are adopted by Israeli communities that serve as their home away from home.

Their absorption period includes Hebrew ulpan studies, educational tours in Israel, as well as an introduction to the military structure and the different positions in the IDF.

One soon-to-be lone soldier, Ariel Hassan from New Jersey, said he was looking forward to joining the army and hopes to serve in the IDF’s elite Egoz commando unit.

“It’s a very famous unit,” he said. “But we’ll see. The army will decide, and wherever they send me, I’ll do the best that I can do.”

Under Garin Tzabar, which is affiliated with the Hebrew Scouts Movement in Israel, the lone soldiers are “adopted” either by a kibbutz or the immigrant absorption center in the city of Ra’anana.

The flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport bore 22 families with 75 children among them, 15 single men and women, and 17 retirees. Among the 215 on board were seven doctors and 15 health professionals who will be integrating into the Israeli health-care system.

“It was my absolute joy to welcome these new [immigrants] upon their arrival in Israel. It is especially exciting to see families with kids and young adults embrace the Zionist dream of making aliyah,” said Immigration and Integration Minister Ofir Sofer.

Nefesh B’Nefesh co-founder and executive director Rabbi Yehoshua Fass noted that “each and every [immigrant] carries with them a unique story, yet what bonds them together is a unified love for our homeland, shared goals and collective action.

“It teaches us that diversity exists within unity—that shared values and commitment can bind different individuals and groups together,” added Fass.

According to figures the Jewish Agency released in July, 29,293 immigrants arrived in Israel during the first half of 2023. Some 80% of the newcomers were from Russia.

Nefesh B’Nefesh, a nonprofit organization that facilitates the immigration of Jews to Israel from North America and which chartered the plane, said Ginzburg was the oldest immigrant arriving on the flight.

The airport’s arrival hall was full of family reunions, and in some cases, people joyously dancing in circles as the newcomers tightly hugged their Israeli relatives.

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